SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Sept. 8, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — To paraphrase an old saying, the Salt Lake City Police Department has caught a fox guarding its hen house. And they fired her.
A civilian employee assigned various duties in the police department’s evidence room was found high on illegal drugs while on the job, part of which was securing evidence for upcoming criminal drug trials.
The worker was put on administrative leave, given a drug test, and her employment has been terminated.
Of the approximate 200,000 items secured in the evidence room, about 40,000 — 20 percent — are illegal drugs or items related to drug cases, Chief Mike Brown, SLCPD, told reporters at a news conference late Friday afternoon.
“In the interest of transparency, it is important for us to put this out today,” Brown said. “About three weeks ago, we had an employee in our evidence room. They were exhibiting very unusual behavior. A supervisor interacted with them, noticed this, and immediately put them on admin(istrative) leave and requested a drug test. Unfortunately, the drug test came back positive.”
Her leave started Aug. 15.
Brown said he immediately contacted Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill, the lead prosecutor of county cases. Gill and Brown both said they have found no evidence that the employee look drugs from the evidence room.
“But given the fact that we have a potential breach with the evidence room, a proactive and robust, aggressive methodology that will ensure the integrity of our evidence in cases that I am able to prosecute was an essential part of the equation,” Gill said.
To that end, an intensive audit has begun to check and recheck the evidence that is related to drug cases or that passed through the hands of the now former employee, Gill said.
Evidence needed in open and active cases will be processed first. Any evidence with a packaging seal that shows signs of tampering will go through a more intensive examination to determine if it has been compromised. The assessment will be done by a newly formed audit and compliance unit, made up of one sergeant and four officers.
A random selection of evidence that team finds to be unaltered will face a second audit by an outside group, just to make sure standards remain high.
The first audits began three weeks ago, Brown said. Asked when the entire evidence audit process will be complete, Brown paused.
“It could be six months. It could be two years,” he said.
The former employee faces a criminal investigation by the Unified Police Department, Brown said, so her name and details of the case will not immediately be released.
The painstaking audit is necessary to protect both defendants and plaintiffs, Gill said.
“We will not allow any pieces of evidence to go forward that in any way would compromise the integrity of the prosecution or the due process rights of anyone involved.”