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Police arrest staff member

The Hawk Eye,
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Burlington, IA

Evidence technician charged with drug possession

Burlington Police officials are going through every piece of evidence from several pending cases stored inside their building in the wake of the drug arrest of the department's evidence custodian.

Scott Jay Kuster, 49, of Burlington was fired as BPD's evidence technician/ IT specialist Monday. He has been a civilian employee with the department since 2007.

Police Chief Dan Luttenegger said two police officers arrested Kuster Saturday morning after seeing him smoking a marijuana pipe in the underground level of the parking ramp at Third and Washington streets, which is behind the police department headquarters.

Kuster was booked into the Des Moines County jail, charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is free on $1,000 bail and set to appear in court Friday.

Luttenegger has asked the department's criminal investigation division to look into the matter.

Officers with training on how to manage the evidence storage room will recheck seized items, including drugs, in the coming days.

Maj. Doug Beaird said the department recently completed an audit of the section and all evidence logged in the department's custody was all in order at the time.

"It's just a matter of going through it piece by piece," Beaird said. "We are conducting a re-audit."

Officials said they have no reason to suspect Kuster acquired any pot from the department's evidence lockers but noted the ongoing recount.

Dozens of pending drug cases are on the criminal docket in Des Moines County and local prosecutors expect a flurry of inquiries from defense attorneys questioning evidence chain of custody.

The police department's computerized system logs seized evidence investigators held for pending cases.

It is designed to track who's handling evidence and when.

For instance, when an officer seizes property or drugs from an arrested suspect, the officer transports the item to the BPD and logs it into the department's computer system, which assigns it a number.

Next, the officer seals the evidence and secures it in a locker.

From there, the evidence custodian takes it out and places the item in the evidence room. A barcode reflects when the item had been moved to another secure location and by who.

The evidence technician also is tasked to transport evidence that needs testing at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime laboratory in Ankeny. There, the evidence again is logged into the state's network, which compares the data to the local police records.

The items are again sealed, and the lab technician's signature is added to tamperproof tape.

There only are two key holders for the BPD evidence room: the evidence custodian and the chief of detectives.

Kuster was described as a "good employee who made bad choices."

Luttenegger and Beaird said there are no indications Kuster had been smoking pot while working, describing the man as dependable and a meticulous employee.

As the in-house information technology person, Kuster also maintained the computers inside police officers' cruisers, and Luttenegger said the equipment and the data stored in it has not been compromised.

"It's a spot (evidence technician/IT specialist position) that needs to be filled," Luttenegger said. "We will be looking at our options."

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