he Houston Chronicle
BYLINE: JENNIFER LATSON, Staff
GALVESTON - Less than a year after guns, drugs and money went missing from a police evidence room, officials discovered more missing evidence this week from the same locked storage room.
The evidence - drugs seized in arrests over the past 12 months - could put a dozen or more court cases in jeopardy, officials said Thursday. Police Chief Charles Wiley warned that the small quantities of narcotics may turn out to be only a portion of the overall loss as investigators conduct a sweeping inventory of the disorganized evidence room.
Last May, a missing cache of evidence forced prosecutors to dismiss 21 criminal cases and led to the resignation of the police chief and a detective. A clerk who worked in the property room was fired and later indicted on theft charges.
Police discovered the latest losses this week when they went to destroy drugs that had already had their day in court and found that small baggies of marijuana, cocaine, hydrocodone and Xanax were no longer on the shelf.
Guns and money?
Worried, they began searching for evidence in pending cases and found more missing narcotics. They haven't even begun checking for other types of missing evidence - such as guns or money - Wiley said.
"We've only looked at drug cases because that's what brought it to our attention," he said.
In the meantime, prosecutors have put on hold every case that depends on police evidence, drug-related or other-wise. "We basically did the same thing we did last year," said Joel Bennett, first assistant district attorney. "Cases are on hold until we can confirm that the evidence is still there and its integrity hasn't been compromised."
After the May discoveries, the city hired an auditor to recommend ways to prevent future losses. Her report documents a cramped and jumbled evidence storage system, with poorly labeled boxes and stacks of unneeded evidence dating back to the 1970s. She advised standardized policies for packaging, storing and signing for evidence.
On Thursday, Wiley could not name any specific steps the department had taken to clean up the evidence room since May. "We have yet to ever have a complete, detailed inventory of every piece of property in that evidence room," he said. "It's just so voluminous, so monumental."
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