Fort Wayne police keep eye on evidence in move

The Associated Press, The Journal Gazette, Cox Media Group, ktvu.com
BYLINE: DOMINIC ADAMS
Link to Article

Fort Wayne, IN

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Capt. Shane Lee's task is to make sure the Fort Wayne Police Department's move from its Creighton Avenue headquarters to its new home in the City-County Building doesn't jeopardize any criminal cases.

Lee is overseeing the move of the department's evidence storage on the sixth floor of Creighton Avenue to its more modern home on Main Street. The renovations to the City-County Building cost more than $4.8 million and included removing the escalator and beefing up building security.

Every box, folder, pool cue, computer, stuffed animal, tire, gun, drug and other item considered evidence in a criminal case must never leave the sight of an officer or someone who works in the property room.

An officer watches the movers pack the boxes, follows them to the moving truck, watches the evidence loaded onto the truck, locks the truck after it's loaded, follows the truck to the City-County Building and then watches it get unloaded.

The process will be repeated until all 400,000 boxes of evidence are moved.

"For a successful prosecution of a criminal case, we have to show that the continuity of evidence was strictly followed," Lee said.

If an item is left unattended, a defense attorney could argue the evidence is no longer in the same state it was when police initially seized it, Lee said.

That could mean a judge could bar the evidence from being used in a trial.

Movers recently started the month long process of moving the police department headquarters downtown - something the department has been planning for the past year and a half.

"We've made do with this building for 15 years, but it was never made for public safety," Chief Rusty York said.

Movers snaked carts in between rows of shelves stacked to the ceiling with boxes.

One box is labeled "death investigation," while another contains items collected in a stabbing investigation and a third box is labeled "sexual assault."

As the carts are loaded with evidence, an officer watches nearby and waits until the movers fill a couple of carts.

The three snake back through the aisles, into the hallway and onto the elevator.

Once in the lobby, the carts are pushed out the front door and across a makeshift bridge to the side door of the moving truck, then loaded inside.

Another officer watches from his unmarked police cruiser and readies to follow the truck to its new home at the City-County Building.

"It'll be comparable in size, but organized different," Diane Spiller, the department's evidence manager, said of the new location in the City-County Building.

Each piece of evidence is placed in a sealed bag, labeled with a barcode and put in a box that also is labeled with a barcode.

Spiller said the evidence in the new room will be stored on moveable shelves.

Officials had to make room to store evidence for a long period - Spiller said, for example, that evidence in child molesting cases must be kept until the child turns 31 years old.

There are different areas of storage for DNA, firearms, narcotics and homicide evidence, Lee said.

"They have been diligently working for a number of months to prepare for the move," he said of the evidence room workers.

Spiller said large tools that have been seized are difficult to move because often they can't be stored in a traditional box.

Beginning this week, officers with criminal evidence or other property have been taking it to the City-County Building.

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net

Copyright The Associated Press

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