June 29, 2023
Cambria County's District attorney and coroner announced Wednesday the death of a West Hills officer was caused by an overdose of drugs they said came from his department's evidence storage.
The investigation surrounding his death has had an immediate ripple effect on court cases as well as local police departments around the county.
District Attorney Greg Neugebauer said drugs Sgt. Michael Beblar died from came from the evidence storage at the West Hills Regional Police Department.
In a news conference on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Police said their audit of the West Hills police department found evidence that was missing, tampered with or destroyed.
Neugebauer said 9 active cases being pursued by his office and the West Hills department are now compromised because the evidence is tainted. He said there is supposed to be drug evidence that is no longer there.
As a result, Neugebauer said it is likely his office will be withdrawing charges on the pending cases. He said one case was already withdrawn at the magistrate's level.
"We are ethically and constitutionally bound to take that action," he said.
Neugebauer said his office is already reaching out to local police departments around the county to review evidence collection and storage policies and procedures. He said this project is what lies ahead in the months to come.
"We want to ensure, as much as possible, that a similar situation doesn't arise again," he said.
The State Police Troop A Criminal Investigative Unit conducted the audit of West Hills police department's evidence room after, according to Neugebauer, the Cambria County detectives quickly discovered tampered and missing evidence.
"We cannot make it right," said Trooper Tristan Tappe, "we work to diminish (it)."
Neugebauer said he cannot force a department to make changes to how they handle evidence, but they make prosecution decisions based on the evidence they have. Law enforcement is a team effort, he said.
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