April 15, 2008 Disarray of epic proportions in V.I. Police Department evidence storage areas was exposed Thursday for the third time in the last fifteen years by an Interior Department Audit this one conducted between July and January at the request of Police Commissioner James McCall.
From rape kits destroyed by lack of refrigeration to bloody clothing hanging on makeshift racks in an abandoned building, proof of the chaotic manner in which crucial evidence is handled by the Police Department went from bad to worse as the report chronicled the same problems exposed by previous audits.
"The Police Departments failure to address long-standing deficiencies in maintaining the integrity of criminal evidence has perpetuated for nearly two decades," the report signed by Mary L. Kendall, Interior Department acting Inspector General, said.
Photos of random boxes piled floor to ceiling, chests and cardboard containers full of no-longer-needed firearms, and bloody clothing layered with dust and pigeon droppings hanging from a makeshift rack lend a macabre note to the 18-page report.
But the narrative is even more damning, as it describes the haphazard manner in which physical evidence crucial to the prosecution of grievous crimes is and has been handled.
It describes bloody clothing from multiple cases overlapping on drying racks, an almost total absence of meaningful security measures to prevent tampering or theft, personnel with no ability to handle the volume of items under their purview, and a laissez faire attitude by some Police officials.
The investigation included various locations on St. Croix and St. Thomas where evidence is held
The long-abandoned Richard Callwood Command on St. Thomas that is used to store a variety of items proved the "most egregious" example of improper storage practices.
For starters, the building could only be accessed via a set of crumbling stairs at the back of the building to the second floor, where inspectors had to climb over an open cistern and a concrete wall to get into it.
Once inside, "We were warned by the evidence custodian that entering one room posed a risk of electrocution due to extension cords running through standing water" because the roof leaks. A hole in a window where an air conditioner once lived, leaves the entire area open to the public, the report said.
And in fact a vagrant, known by name to the custodian, routinely takes up residence in the bathroom of the decaying structure.
Numerous examples of unrestricted or easy access to most evidence were given.
One of the most chilling aspects of the helter-skelter system was the loss of 100 rapes kits when no one noticed a forensic refrigerator rigged with an extension cord to a malfunctioning electrical outlet had lost power for three days. One of the kits was evidence collected from a 7-year-old girl who was allegedly raped on a school campus. A memorandum sent in May 2007, two months before the power failure, from the then forensic unit supervisor warning then Chief of Police Thomas Hannah has not been functionally acted upon to this day. "The refrigerators at the St. Croix facility still do not have a reliable power source," the report states.
The audit discloses other such memos going back as far as 1997 that were also ignored.
Another telling anecdote read when auditors requested that the forensic supervisor on St. Croix locate 28 evidence packages that were listed on the inventory log books, 45 minutes later the employee had not located even one.
"After four days, the forensic unit employees still could not locate six of the 28 evidence packages," the report said.
Another section related to security said neither of the evidence rooms on St. Thomas or St. Croix have surveillance cameras. But, the report said, "While the St. Thomas Firearms Bureau has one surveillance camera, for reasons unknown to Police Department management, it has been disconnected."
A statement received Thursday night from Government House Spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said the governor welcomed the investigation that he had instructed Police Commissioner James McCall to request. He said the audit was "part of a continuing effort to identify problems in the department, problems that have become embedded throughout the past several years."
Greaux said some changes had already been implemented and McCall would be available Friday to detail the corrective measures that are being or have been put in place in the wake of the audit. To read the entire audit click here .
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