Marion County Sheriff’s Office implements policy changes for evidence

Ocala Star-Banner, ocala.com
BYLINE: Austin L. Miller, Staff writer

Marion County, FL

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has implemented some new policy steps for evidence handling and storage. The changes were prompted after some evidence, including an unloaded semi-automatic weapon, was picked up by a jail inmate who hid the gun for several weeks.

The evidence — which was placed into a black plastic garbage bag — was not discovered missing until nearly a month after it was logged in, when an attorney requested a piece of the evidence.

Leo Smith, who conducted the internal affairs investigation into the matter, stated in his conclusion: “Clearly, the fact that evidence is placed into a ‘garbage bag’ for whatever reason needs to be addressed.”

Smith noted in his report that, at the time of the incident, the Sheriff’s Office “had no polices or procedures that addressed the storage locations of evidence by a crime scene technician once brought to the evidence property unit, even though lockers were provided.”

The report states “it has been an acceptable practice, since June 2010 when they moved to their current facility, for some CSTs to bypass these evidence lockers and bring items of evidence directly to the property room technician between the hours of 8-5, Monday through Friday. When this takes places, the PRT would like to be advised that evidence is being left; however, on occasion they ‘just notice it’ lying there.”

Though a policy failure was substantiated by Smith, a dereliction of duty violation was unfounded “due to the policy failure.”

No disciplinary actions were handed down and the inmate was not charged with any crime.

On July 25, crime scene technician Beverly Rodia-Turner delivered evidence to the evidence property unit that included latent prints, a video, a 9mm semi-automatic with a case, a credit card, a receipt, a DVD, CDs, a backpack, burglary tools and a knife.

On Aug. 18, Sue Livoti, assistant evidence director, reported to Lt. Chris Vorisek that the items were missing after a request came in from an attorney for a copy of one of the CDs, which could not be located.

During the investigation, it was found that Rodia-Turner collected the evidence from the Marion Oaks District Office the morning of July 25, along with more evidence from another district office, which was found secured in the evidence property room.

Vorisek asked Livoti how evidence should be turned in by a crime scene technician and was told it is supposed to be put into lockers inside the warehouse. On occasion, the technician might give the evidence to James Ketner, an evidence property room technician. Livoti said “no evidence is supposed to be left in the office without the knowledge from a property room person taking custody of those items,” according to the internal investigation document.

Rodia-Turner was on vacation when the items were reported missing. She called Vorisek and told him she had placed the evidence in a large black plastic bag and put it in the locker in the property room.

When asked why she would put it in a black plastic bag, she said that years ago, a CD was lost between the district office and evidence property room. Since then, she said, evidence collected from the district lockers is placed into a larger bag. The evidence in question would not fit in a brown paper bag, so the items were placed into the large plastic garbage bag and the top was tied, she said.

Livoti found surveillance video from the evidence warehouse that showed Rodia-Turner entering the evidence property room shortly before 9 a.m. July 25 with a black garbage bag. She passed by the lockers and went to the area of Ketner’s desk. He was on vacation and nobody was at his desk. The video shows Rodia-Turner leaving the area a few moments later empty-handed, according to the report.

Livoti searched the entire property room area, but was not able to find the bag or its contents.

In another review of the video, a different evidence worker was seen carrying a bag out of the office, which he put into a garbage can that contained other bags. The trash was then put outside the evidence property room. An inmate worker could be seen removing a garbage bag and going inside the food warehouse.

The report noted that it was common for an inmate worker to take garbage from outside the evidence property room and put it with other garbage from the warehouse before taking it to a dumpster.

While the video was not clear enough to identify the inmate, officials learned that two inmates were assigned at the warehouse at the time and went to talk with one of them, James Mays, 24.

Mays said one of the garbage bags was ripped open and he had to repack the contents into another bag. Inside the ripped bag was a handgun and a case. He said he took the gun out of the case, held it in his hand and then put it back in the case. He said he put the gun and case into the garbage bag and threw it in the dumpster. Asked why he never reported it, he said he thought the gun was supposed to be thrown away, the report notes.

Mays later changed his story and admitted putting the bag with the gun under a table in the warehouse, where it stayed for several weeks. He said he threw it away Aug. 19 after he was asked about which inmates were assigned to the warehouse over the last several weeks. He told investigators he didn’t know why he did it, or what his plans were, the report states.

Officials searched the dumpster and found the gun, along with the other contents of the plastic bag. The handgun will be disposed of, authorities said.

Rodia-Turner told Smith she put the evidence and the log sheet into the black plastic garbage bag due to the number of items collected and said she does that so she won’t misplace any items. She said she wrote Marion Oaks District Office on the plastic bag and put the bag on a cart that had “a bunch of stuff on it.” She said she did not remember telling anyone she was leaving the evidence. She said there were two bags, one from the Marion Oaks District Office the other from another district office, and that no one told her not to bring evidence directly into the property room work station area.

Smith interviewed three of the five crime scene technicians. Two told him they never take evidence past the evidence bay into the property room and they always put evidence in lockers. The third said she rarely takes evidence directly through the evidence bay into the property room.

The policy changes that resulted from the investigation include:

All evidence brought in to the evidence property warehouse will be submitted into the appropriate locker unless there has been approval from an evidence division supervisor for an evidence property room technician to take physical custody of the item(s) directly.

All trash that comes out of the property room will be handled solely by evidence division personnel and taken directly to a dumpster.

At no time will trash be left outside the evidence warehouse or given to an inmate worker.

All employees or other people, other than evidence property room personnel, will not go beyond the chain-link gate into the evidence warehouse without approval from a property room employee and only after signing in on a log at the gate.

All persons other than evidence property room personnel will be escorted by a property room employee while inside the secured area of the evidence warehouse.

According to the Marion County Jail log, Mays was incarcerated Feb. 21 on a warrant for violation of probation for grand theft and sale and possession of oxycodone. His expected release date is Nov. 12.

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