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MISSING EVIDENCE RECOVERED

Of the 2,155 items missing from the Brooksville Police Department, only 13 are unaccounted for.

An investigation begun more than two years ago into 2,155 items - including guns, drugs and money - missing from the Brooksville Police Department evidence room has concluded, with all but 13 of the items located.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began the audit in May 2007 after a request by interim police Chief Frank Ross, who initially sought help from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

The audit by the Sheriff's Office revealed two dozen guns, more than $4,000 in cash and unknown quantities of drugs were missing. At the recommendation of Sheriff Richard Nugent, Ross asked the FDLE to get involved.

The audit cast a cloud over the management of the evidence room during the controversial tenure of longtime Brooksville police Chief Ed Tincher, whom Ross replaced.

While some of the items in the initial audit were missing, others were unmarked or never catalogued. The inventory in 2007 showed 6,129 items on hand while the department's evidence computer's database listed only 3,901 items. More than 1,500 pieces were not labeled with any case number or other information.

The FDLE report concluded that the evidence discrepancies were the result of substandard record-keeping and control.

Brooksville police Chief George Turner agreed, saying that without proper tracking and handling, "things get mislabeled, put in the wrong place or just plain forgotten."

Turner, who took over as chief in September 2007, recalls being greeted by FDLE investigators on his first day on the job. Since then he estimates his staff has put "thousands of hours" into sorting through the massive number of items that had accumulated over the years.

"We had stuff in there dating back to the 1980s that didn't need to be there," Turner said. "Drugs, weapons, all kinds of things that nobody around here knew anything about."

The report noted that 13 items remain unaccounted for, including three handguns, two of which were involved in death investigations; and a little more than $700 in cash.

However, Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee said that his department reviewed all of the discrepancies, and found "no issues with our criminal cases.''

Turner said that the department has taken steps to improve operations at the evidence room, including specialized training for workers, an evidence tracking software program, video and security upgrades, purging all closed case exhibits and following state standards.

"This is one thing that won't happen again," Turner said.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

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