Marin Independent Journal, marinij.com
BYLINE: Gary Klien,
Marin County, CA
Marin County's drug squad has tightened its evidence handling policies in the aftermath of allegations that a former detective used cocaine he obtained from his work.
The drug unit, formally known as the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, made the changes in response to an independent evidence audit it ordered last year. The task force implemented all but one of the recommendations by the auditors.
"A lot of them needed to be done," said sheriff's Lt. Don Wick, commander of the task force. "I feel confident that now it is secure. ... We knew there were gaps in our system."
Wick presented the policy updates to the task force oversight committee during its quarterly meeting Monday. The committee consists of eight local officials and two residents.
The audit itself did not implicate the former detective, Jehan J.J. Amdjadi, in any wrongdoing. Although he tested positive for cocaine use, authorities have not proved that he obtained drugs through his job, and he has not been charged.
Amdjadi declined a request for comment through his lawyer, Matthew Pavone.
The audit began in November, a few months after an internal investigation into Amdjadi, a Novato police detective who was assigned to the task force for three years.
Authorities ordered the internal investigation after learning that Amdjadi's wife told a friend that she and her husband used cocaine that he got from work, according to court testimony. Amdjadi later tested positive for cocaine and left his job.
When Amdjadi and his wife were subpoenaed to testify about their alleged cocaine use, he asserted the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, and she asserted spousal confidentiality privilege.
The task force hired the auditors to track evidence seized by the task force from July 2009 through September 2012. The time frame roughly coincides with the time Amdjadi worked for the drug unit.
The audit was conducted by Bob Cooke and Fred Doran, retired investigators for the state Department of Justice. The auditors tracked the "seizure, handling, storage and disposition" of about 5,440 pieces of evidence in 533 task force cases.
The auditors said they found no indication that drug evidence was "compromised" and no signs of "gross impropriety" in the handling of guns, money or other evidence. The audit said the drug unit's evidence handling was generally consistent with common law enforcement practices.
But the audit found instances of sloppy record keeping, weight discrepancies and incomplete documentation. In one case, an investigator reported booking more than a pound of marijuana into evidence, but there was no record of it being received by evidence technicians, no record of a destruction order for it, and no record that it had been destroyed.
The audit also concluded that evidence destruction was being conducted too infrequently. Evidence was destroyed just twice during the period of the audit, once in 2010 and 2011.
In the 2011 destruction, Amdjadi and an evidence custodian, Christine Wheeler, drove drugs to the Covanta Energy Corp. facility in Crow's Landing to have it incinerated. The quantity of evidence was so large that Wheeler took loads of narcotics from the vehicle to the incinerator while Amdjadi remained at the vehicle to watch the drugs.
Doran, addressing the oversight committee when the audit was completed, said the audit found nothing egregious or even unusual, just "a little bit of complacency."
"Most agencies are guilty of that," he said.
In addition, he attributed many of the lapses to the drug unit's lack of a designated evidence custodian during the early period covered by the audit. The work was considered an "ancillary duty" for a task force sergeant and a clerk.
The audit recommended numerous improvements, including training the staff to meet minimum criteria for evidence reporting; installing extra security for off-site evidence storage; destroying evidence every year rather than sporadically; and more thorough documentation by the evidence custodian at each stage in the chain of custody.
Wick, the task force commander, told the oversight committee Monday that all of the recommendations have been implemented except for one. Although the auditors suggested having computer access in the evidence room at the sheriff's department, the room lacks connectivity, Wick said.
However, the issue is moot because the sheriff's office is moving from the Civic Center to a new public safety headquarters next year.
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