MAY 19, 2018
(WSVN) - A sewage leak inside a South Florida police department left evidence — soaked. The question now: could it sink pending criminal cases? 7's Brian Entin investigates in our special report called "Flood of Trouble."
Evidence laid out all over the floor of the Hollywood Police Department.
It was drying out after getting soaked in sewage.
Gordon Weekes, Broward Public Defender's Office: "I have never seen anything of this sort where sewage to that magnitude impacted a whole host of cases."
Police described it as a "significant sewage flood."
Contaminated water from the station's second floor spilled into the property room below.
7News obtained pictures of the damaged evidence. Clothing, documents, even DNA swabs — all impacted.
Gordon Weekes: "The sewage that may contain fecal matter, that can also contaminate those DNA pieces of evidence that they were holding to be used in trial."
The Broward Public Defender's Office says evidence in at least six of their cases was affected. But the problem is much bigger.
An internal police memo says "over 1,200 items had to be removed from the vault and dried."
They include evidence in unsolved crimes — from burglaries to shootings — and in cases where arrests "have" been made. Like items in the shocking case of animal cruelty against Ollie the pit bull stabbed and stuffed in a suitcase.
And clothing and DNA swabs in a machete attack caught on camera inside a restaurant.
The flood happened over a period of three days, starting back on Dec. 30, 2017.
Brian Entin: "Were you notified about this by Hollywood Police?"
Gordon Weekes: "No. We did not receive any notice."
It's not the first time there have been problems inside the Hollywood Police evidence unit. In 2014, 7News broke the story of 94 rape kits that had gone untested for years. And in 2017, Broward's inspector general reported more than $137,000 – and 1,000 pills were stolen from the evidence room.
John Scott, Broward Inspector General, February 2017: "We investigated allegations that the Hollywood Police Department's Property and Evidence unit was grossly mismanaged. We found that it was."
And look at this — included in the inspector general report, a 2014 letter from a former Hollywood Police chief acknowledging, "The location of vault 2 is a concern as sewage and water pipes run through the area."
Ten months after that report was issued — sewage flooded vault 2.
Gordon Weekes: "Not only did they know that this could have occurred, they took no steps to ensure that it did not occur."
In a statement about the flood, police said, "To this point it has not compromised an investigation or the prosecution of a criminal case."
Police say that could change as investigators work on a case-by-case basis.
At Wednesday's city commission meeting, Hollywood Police Chief Chris O'Brien would not talk on camera about the flood, but the mayor did.
Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy: "You don't want any evidence ever damaged. It must be preserved for the sake of successful prosecution of criminal cases. So, I don't think you'll find anybody that's happy that sewage had burst into the evidence room."
The city is also discussing upgrading or replacing the old police headquarters.
The Broward State Attorney's Office was notified about the flood. They tell 7News they don't believe it will significantly compromise their pending cases.
Hollywood Police Department full statement:
"Here is what I can tell you about the plumbing leak at police headquarters over the New Year's holiday between December 30, 2017 and January 1, 2018. The department is aware of damage to evidence, but to this point it has not compromised an investigation or the prosecution of a criminal case. The status could change as investigators work on a case-by-case basis. As soon as the leak was discovered in one of the four property and evidence vaults, the police department immediately informed all necessary parties, including the State Attorney's Office. City staff and property and evidence clerks worked to ensure a thorough and careful cleanup in an effort to preserve the integrity of the materials stored in the impacted vault."
– Miranda Grossman, Public Information Manager
Broward State Attorney's Office full statement:
"I'm told the flood did not significantly compromise evidence in any pending criminal case. We are not aware of any delay caused to the processing of any case due to the flood. Most of the damage was to the outer packaging of stored items, and most of those items are related to closed or non-criminal prosecutions."
– Kristi Grimm, Office of the State Attorney