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Investigation into missing firearms continues

The Journal,

Berkeley County, WV

Investigator confirms former evidence custodian has resigned

MARTINSBURG - An investigator with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department has confirmed that there is an ongoing state criminal investigation into firearms found missing from the department's evidence room that were sold to a local gun shop.

Sgt. B.F. Hall said Wednesday that the firearms are believed to have been taken from the evidence room within the last two years, and the deputy who was formerly in charge of the evidence room in 2009 has since resigned.

Hall declined to identify the deputy who resigned, stating it was an ongoing criminal investigation and that no charges have been filed yet.

"We are doing an investigation right now into some firearms that might be missing from our evidence room. The investigation has been going on for about two and a half weeks now. It is ongoing, and the thing that's important with this is that none of these firearms that we are looking at right now are from any current cases," Hall said.

Hall said the firearms are related to cases from several years ago, and the incident is not something that will affect any cases that are currently pending before the court. Hall said the sheriff's department is being assisted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives in the investigation.

"The deputy who was assigned to the evidence room at that time, which would have been several years ago, that person has resigned. I can't release the name right now because it's still an ongoing investigation. That person has not been in charge of the evidence room since 2009," Hall said.

Hall declined to say how or when the firearms were discovered missing from the evidence room. He also wouldn't say whether there are any official suspects in the case.

"It's an internal matter. We have the deputy who was in charge back then who might be involved in this, but there's no charges forthcoming yet. That's not to say there's not going to be some in the future, but it is still ongoing," Hall said.

Hall said the investigation will likely continue for at least a few more weeks. He said the department has kept Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely up to date on the status of the investigation.

"I can't say (the deputy's) name at this time. It's an ongoing investigation. That's a personnel matter, and we don't comment on personnel matters. If there were criminal charges filed, we would definitely let the press know," Hall said.

Hall said several of the firearms are from several years ago and were set to be disposed of by either being destroyed or sold. Hall said it's not uncommon for the department to house evidentiary items for several years after a case has been disposed of, partly due to the appeals process.

The investigator said the official means to sell an item of evidence that is to be disposed of is to go through the Secretary of State's Office for approval. In order to destroy a piece of evidence that is to be disposed of, a court order called a destruction order is required.

"I can't really go into how we found out, because the case is still ongoing. I will say it doesn't have anything to do with us moving to the new building. That's not how we discovered it," Hall said, dismissing an ongoing rumor.

Hall also said that the incident has nothing do with a "breakdown in the security" of the department's evidence room. He said the department has had an evidence technician assigned to the evidence room since 2010.

"He replaced the previous evidence technician, and he's done an outstanding job with the evidence room. We have a new computerized evidence tracking system in there. It's not a breakdown of our security measures for the evidence room or policy," Hall said.

Currently, he said there is both a full-time evidence technician and a part-time technician who have received specialized training in maintaining evidence. He said that the department does a periodic inventory of its evidence room, but said he couldn't say how frequently they are done. He said, to his knowledge, nothing else had been found missing from the evidence room.

The investigator said that when the sheriff selects people to be an evidence custodian, it's "sort of a matter of trust."

"You put a certain amount of trust in those individuals and so it's more of an issue where there was a violation of trust, so to speak," Hall said.

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