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Former ASO evidence tech acquitted of theft charge

The Gainesville Sun,
BYLINE: Chad Smith Staff writer
Link to Article

Alachua County, FL

Charles Smith listens to testimony during his trial at the Alachua County Criminal Justice Center Thursday. He was found not guilty of theft. Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

A jury on Thursday found a former Alachua County Sheriff's Office evidence technician not guilty on the charge that he stole thousands of dollars in cash from the agency's evidence room in 2010.

Charles Allen Smith, 27, had been fired from the Sheriff's Office, where his father used to work as a deputy, after he was charged with stealing $14,124 that was being held in the evidence room for three separate Waldo Police Department cases.

It took the jury of three men and three women about a half-hour to acquit Smith, who cried alongside family members after the verdict was read.

The state's evidence against Smith was all circumstantial.

He was one of the three evidence technicians with access to the high-profile section of the evidence room, where the money was being stored.

He had a history of money issues, but around the time of the theft, he was the only one of the three to have an “influx” of cash, as Assistant State Attorney Marc Peterson described it.

He also put down about $6,000 in cash for a used Jeep and a pull-behind camper.

He also admitted to lying to his boyfriend about where the money came from, saying it had been a lump payment from the Sheriff's Office to settle his worker's compensation claim.

In fact, he had been getting bi-weekly payments of about $270 for about a year and never did get a lump payment from the agency.

On the stand, Smith, who was hired by the agency in 2005, said he had been cashing those checks and saving them in a safe, though he never told his boyfriend. That money is what he said he used to buy the vehicles.

He said he never handled the money from the Waldo cases.

His attorneys, Gloria Fletcher and Therese Truelove, showed there were a number of issues at the Sheriff's Office evidence room, including a faulty door guarding the section where the Waldo money was stored, and an audit that showed hundreds of items were unaccounted for.

They said the state couldn't prove where their client got the money, adding there was no physical evidence to tie Smith to the theft.

“It has merely proved that this money can't be found at the Alachua County Sheriff's Office,” Truelove told Circuit Judge Stan Morris after making a motion for him to acquit her client, which he ultimately denied. “Suspicion, your honor, is not enough.”

An internal investigation conducted after the money was found to be missing showed the evidence staff routinely breached policy by intentionally forging dates in the chain of custody used to protect the integrity of evidence by documenting who had it and when.

Smith was fired, while Marie Knowles, the evidence supervisor, resigned during the investigation.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell determined two others investigated in connection with problems in the evidence room, part-time evidence custodian Tommie Raulerson and support bureau chief Diana Jacobs, had done nothing wrong.

Fletcher found that hard to believe, calling her client a “scapegoat” after the verdict was read.

“Not a one of them could put the evidence in his hands,” Fletcher said of the witnesses called in the two-day trial.

She, like other defense attorneys in Gainesville, also criticized the Sheriff's Office for how slow supervisors were to react to the issues in the evidence room.

“That can't happen,” she said, “because the most important thing you have is evidence.”

Peterson, the prosecutor, said it was a good tactic for the defense to raise the issues that were going on in the evidence room, but noted during the trial that less than a half of 1 percent of items in the inventory weren't where they should have been — a pretty good record, he said.

He also said it didn't make sense that Smith would keep all that money in a safe, yet live paycheck to paycheck every month — sometimes ending with a negative balance.

But Peterson wasn't able to prove that the money he paid for those vehicles didn't come from the worker's compensation case.

“It's a convenient excuse,” he said. “I don't know if I buy it.”

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