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GBI probe of missing drugs leads to change of police protocols

Gwinnett Daily Post,
BYLINE: Tyler Estep, Staff Writer,

Gwinnett County, GA

2011-02-14_G-A_GBI probe of missing drugs_
Charles Walters

LAWRENCEVILLE — Most of the missing cocaine that was the root of a GBI investigation into the Gwinnett County Police Department was never found, but a number of new protocols and an increased focus on enforcing them will make sure similar incidents don’t occur again, officials said.

The investigation, which began almost a year ago, revealed a number of security lapses within GCPD’s Special Investigation Section, which handles undercover drug cases.

In a press conference Monday, Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters said no department employee was punished or let go as a direct result of the investigation, and District Attorney Danny Porter said no criminal charges would be filed.

One of the three kilograms of cocaine originally reported missing was recovered and determined to have been used in the course of legitimate police work, but had not been properly documented, Porter said. Only the wrappers for the other two kilograms were discovered.

Porter ultimately said that he “personally believed (those two kilos) were destroyed,” but had no hard evidence either way.

Walters said all of the managers and investigators of the SIS have been replaced, though “no one was removed because of the investigation.” The turnover was a result of retirements, promotions and unrelated reassignment, Walter said.

“Most of those people, the investigators, are still employed in the police department,” he said.

Porter and Walters outlined Monday 15 individual “issues and resolutions” uncovered and addressed by the GBI’s investigation. Some of the resolutions undertaken in the last two years include:

• New auditing procedures, disbursement forms and an accurate system to track “buy money” using Quicken software were introduced.

• Drugs are no longer maintained in the Gwinnett Police department safe. Drugs needed for undercover drug sales are obtained from other sources, like the DEA.

• All SIS entry doors were re-keyed. “Dozens” of SIS keys were previously unaccounted for.

• Four video cameras were installed in the SIS.

• Safes now have keypad locks on them. Old safes that held currency and drugs had spin-style combination locks, the combination of which was known by “multiple unauthorized personnel.” The new locks include a software program that allows entries into the safe to be monitored, and access times recorded.

• Line inspections are now audited monthly by the SIS commander.

• All investigators being reassigned to SIS must undergo a psychological examination, past supervisors will be interviewed and Office of Professional Standards histories will be reviewed.

• New investigators will now complete a six-week field training program with a veteran investigator.

Monday’s press conference comes on the heels of last week’s indictment of two former Gwinnett County police officers, both working with the SIS unit at the time of their alleged crimes.

David Ray Butler was indicted on charges of fraud and theft charges, accused of using a departmental credit card for purchases at restaurants, hotels and the adult novelty store Starship.

Vennie Rodrick Harden was also indicted. Harden is accused of forging SIS disbursement documents.

Porter acknowledged Monday his disappointment in not finding a clear answer to the missing cocaine that spurred the GBI’s investigation, but said he was satisfied with the steps the department had taken to prevent any future incidents.

“In a case like this, I would have liked to have gotten to the bottom of it, either that it was accounted for or unaccounted for,” Porter said. “If it was stolen, I would have liked to identify the person that did it. But I have to accept the reality.”

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