Evidence keepers scrutinized by Grand Jury

December 11, 2008

By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE

A San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury is probing allegations of sloppy evidence protection by law enforcement and reviewing procedures currently being used by the Sheriff’s Department to protect evidentiary integrity.

Sources with detailed knowledge of the Grand Jury’s investigation said the panel is examining specific systems of storage to determine if evidence slated for use in court proceedings is properly protected, and that the “chain of custody” — a demonstrable sequence of possession — is constantly maintained.

State law requires that the evidence “room must be secure from unauthorized entry,” with materials consisting ideally of concrete block “with both the cealing and the floors being impervious to entry,” according to The California Commission on POST Property Evidence Management Guide. Because evidence can be used in court, the chain of custody is required to be scrupulously handled with very few individuals in the law enforcement system permitted access.

Prosecution of criminal cases already adjudicated or in progress could be adversely impacted if a pattern of breaks in the custodial chain could be demonstrated.

Practices at the sheriff’s Coast Station in Los Osos have raised special concerns. Materials gathered as evidence at crime scenes and placed in that satellite office are stored adjacent to the weapons locker, and both areas are easily accessible to numerous individuals with keys, said sources. Deputies stationed at Coast patrol from Avila Beach to San Simeon, and from Los Padres mountain range to the ocean.

Sheriff Pat Hedges declined comment, noting that “it would be inappropriate for me to discuss any Grand Jury investigation or report.”

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Bryn said the Grand Jury was interested in staffing issues pertaining to the security of evidence locker systems.

SLO County’s Grand Jury examines and reports on administrative and government matters, and does not deal with criminal issues. Topics and details of the panel’s investigations are generally a closely-held secret until public dissemination of the annual report occurs in the spring.

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3 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: mcdonald on 12/19/08
    It would be nice to know what incident brought this inquiry about? We may never know. I hope CCN uses some of their inside sources to follow up on this. There are obviously some serious allegations out there and I'm inclined to believe that it has to do with drugs missing from evidence.
    By: George on 12/18/08
    Make comments about the article and facts at hand,not about other posters.
    By: Nancy on 12/18/08
    Booty Juice has been sliming these blogs a long time. He used to log in as "I always wanted to live there" (among a few other names)back before the site required a login. His posts have always been irrational and disjointed. He either uses too many drugs or doesn't take enough. I also suspect that he is a teenage and a reflection of his what he hears in his home.
    By: NorthCountyGuy on 12/17/08
    Is there a cop in SLO County who isn't suppressing evidence and/or covering-up for the protected, criminal-class elitism of the SLO County Ol'Boy Conspiracy? Is Booty_Juice a member of the Ol'Boy Conspiracy?; or is it a whining crybaby wearing a diaper full of poop? Is the worthless, spineless and ineffective, paper-tiger Grand Jury of SLO County ever going to do anything besides waste our time, our taxes and tons of dead trees?
    By: Michelle on 12/16/08
    Theres a rumor that a gun that was used in a crime was checked into evidence after the suspect was apprehended. Only problem was that the gun was supposedly already in evidence from a previous crime that had occurred a few years earlier. So the question is, how did the gun get back out on the streets or where is the gun that was confiscated from the second crime since it couldn't be the gun that the police say that it is. I don't know any of this for a fact but it's what I've been told.

    (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: WiseGuy on 12/16/08
    Sheriff Hedges is forever hiding from public accountability, to the point he lies or doesn't understand what is expected of him.

    Examine this story for instance. Hedges is quoted as saying it is "inappropriate" for him to discuss a Grand Jury Report.

    How can "journalists" let him get away with saying this without putting it in context? In context, we know that he is not telling the truth. He is misleading the public here. In fact, the Sheriff's Department is REQUIRED to respond and comment on Grand Jury Reports concerning the Sheriff's Department..

    Any honest and responsible Sheriff with nothing to hide would NOT continually duck from the media and would want to speak to the public to reassure the public that all the negative rumors about him and his department that have been bubbling about for a long time are put to rest.

    Hedges at one time seemed honest, open and fair minded. Somewhere during his time as top cop in this county something happened to him and it smells bad. But he pretty much gets a free pass from the local media despite the many and varied controversies that spring up from his department. Hedges is weak, but the local media is weaker.

    This is a pathetic and unhealthy situation and it appears only to be getting worse, as the example emboldens those others in public office who feel they can do whatever they damn well please, with little or no serious scrutiny.

    The media bosses in this county are pathetic, spineless weaklings who don't appreciate the value and power of strong reporting and courageous investigations. Why are they in journalism? What have they done worthwhile except make their reports "pretty" and keep the seats warm where they park their butts each day.

    Warped and criminal politicos take plenty of comfort each day as they read their local papers and watch their local newscasts, and listen to local radio news. They laugh behind the backs of the folks running those news organizations. Heck, they don't even have to bribe anyone to look the other way. They do it for free!
    By: CarolAnnRiley on 12/16/08
    Hopefully the Grand Jury will not only consider
    security but over site. I don't think we can guarantee the chain of custody from an arrest to the evidence locker. Who is going to say that they had more drugs and who is going to believe a drug dealer who says he had more money? Law Enforcement is to a great extent a trust issue. They often state falsehoods and embellishments in their reports. This is a problem and many a citizen has experienced or witnessed this. Regardless, there are some things that we have no choice but to trust. Maybe law enforcement should be required to wear cam recorders on their hats at all times!
    By: Cindy on 12/16/08
    To Wise Guy,
    Many of us have heard the stories of "big city" LEO's pocketing drugs and even money from drug busts. While there is a lot of "hand shaking" in SLO county I've never heard of something like that happening here. I too am curious what
    the catalyst was that launched this GJ probe.
    I'm inclined to think that it's a complaint about lack of security. Not only is evidence subject to disappearing but whats more disconcerting is that it's subject to possible tampering. It sounds like anyone with access to the weapons area (which is everyone) has access to the evidence room. Thats just my guess based on what information is currently available.
    By: Joe on 12/15/08
    If it leaves custody, and go's back to the streets, that's job security… kinda like a mechanic or a carpenter only doing a half-assed job.

    But seriously, where is evidence stored? is it a modern building? Did they use an architect or firm with previous public or police building experience or the nephew of the son of the neighbor who used to be married to the man what once shook the hand of Andy Griffith? …Or do they use the U-Store on Higuera?

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  3. ccn_debate says:

    By: WiseGuy on 12/12/08
    Let me put it another way:

    When the unthinkable happens and a busted drug dealer starts saying to his attorney: "What happened to all my stash? The drugs introduced as evidence are only a portion of what I had on me when I was busted! The flippin narcs stole my stash!"

    Well, then the narcs can start blaming "the chain of custody" or the "security" of the evidence room, and then go about business as usual (pocketing drugs for their own habits or financial reward.)

    So, questions to ask are, what triggered this Grand Jury investigation? Who is pointing the finger at whom? How much "evidence" has been "lost" (that we know of.) Finally, how much is lost before it even makes it to the "chain of custody"?
    By: WiseGuy on 12/11/08
    This story has to do with evidence AFTER it has been stored. But the story that has been overlooked for years is how much of the "evidence" collected by officers even makes it back to the evidence lockers.

    There is a history of the Narcotics Task Force having very little oversight regarding the gathering of seized cocaine, etc. to make sure that the amount confiscated is the same amount that gets booked as "evidence."

    It may have changed, but in the past the Narcotics Task Force of SLO county had a history of operating very much as a renegade unit. They were known among their colleagues as "cowboys" and didn't take well to questions about their ways of doing "business." They ran free and wild, with very little supervision. They thrived on the secrecy their job allowed and used this to cloak their activities even from others in local law enforcement, even those who, theoretically, should be supervising them.

    And you weren't going to find many drug dealers complaining to the court that the amount of contraband booked into evidence was only a portion of what they had with them when they were busted.

    Bottom line: There is much more to this story.
    By: Booty_Juice on 12/11/08
    Yet another yawner so-called story which is then extrapolated into the Conspiracy of The Century by barking nutter north county mongs.
    By: Cindy on 12/11/08
    To SIU
    I thought you were in your office on the east coast? None the less some of this is very interesting. Its difficult to extrapolate exactly what your posting. It looks like your saying that somehow evidence that was tagged to be used for trial had somehow ended up in the dump prior to being presented in court? Humm intact drugs and guns in the dump? Sounds a bit far fetched but this is SLO county and anything can happen here. Does anyone think there could be something to this
    elaboration from SIU (barring the obvious credibility issues)?
    By: SIU on 12/11/08
    If all is secure why did Pat authorize the immediate purchase of several major " Safes" from SLO business Range Master ? after the local dump reported evidence showed up there ?

    Evidence that still had tags on them and were yet to to introduced in Court Trial ? from Drugs, Guns and Documents all ended up in the dump. As soon as the dump called the SO Pat had the safes bought at local merchant and the tainted evidence placed in them ? If the DA or Courts knew this chain of evidence was compromised those cases would have been tossed. As is is at you Rob admitted at Church SLO NAZ a serious breach of evidence happened. Now as a "Christian" you tell the public a new twist. Tell the Truth.

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down

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