The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Officials unable to locate $8,250

 

December 29, 2019



PORTALES — Officials investigating $8,250 missing from a Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office evidence locker have no specific suspects. A New Mexico State Police investigation showed the money, first reported missing in January, could have been taken by any number of individuals. And it’s not even clear when the money was taken.

The Roosevelt County Commission adopted a new “two-person rule” in its Dec. 17 meeting, noting that any money obtained by the sheriff’s office must be counted separately by two people every time money is handled.

The commission acted in response to money seized in a 2017 drug trafficking case and a New Mexico State Police investigation into how that money turned up missing in early 2019. After the commission adopted the “two-person rule,” The News last week obtained the NMSP report through a public information request.

The report by NMSP Agent Andrew Martinez did not point toward any particular employee, and highlighted evidence location and handling procedures so lax anybody working at the RCSO — or even former employees — could have been a suspect in the theft.

“Due to the amount of time that has elapsed,” Martinez wrote, “the amount of personnel that had access to the temporary evidence room and lockers and the disclosure of the combination to those lockers, I am unable to determine who took or when the currency may have been taken.”

The matter was referred to District Attorney Andrea Reeb, who declined to prosecute without a clear suspect. Reeb said she has inquired about using polygraph testing, but has not received a response from investigators.

According to Martinez’ report.

n Sheriff Malin Parker said he was notified on Jan. 11 that $8,254 was missing from temporary Evidence Locker 17. The money, seized by the sheriff’s office while conducting a residential search warrant in April 2017, had been ordered released to the defendant’s attorney.

Parker met with all evidence technicians and deputies involved with the case the next day. An audit of the evidence vault and a search of the complex did not locate the currency.

• Between the time of the seizure and the ordered release of the money, Evidence Locker 17 was never inventoried, nor was any of the evidence processed and put in a more permanent evidence vault.

“Various reasons were given for this,” Martinez wrote in his report, “to include the permanent evidence vault was not adequately ventilated, the agency was in the process of auditing the vault which was halted because the agency was going to relocate. The last reason given (was) there was not enough room for the confiscated evidence which included a large amount of narcotics and weapons.”

• Martinez toured the evidence room and evidence vault, and noticed no cameras in either area. The combination locks used on the evidence lockers were four-digit combination locks, with the same code used for all locks.

• The deputy designated as the department’s evidence technician a few months before the investigation said it wasn’t uncommon for evidence to be in the temporary lockers for months before being moved to the vault.

He said only he and two other department employees were authorized to have the padlock combination, but that he suspected other people knew the code because it hadn’t been changed in “several years.”

• Another department employee said everybody “from the sheriff down” had access to the temporary evidence room, with everybody’s passcode being the last four digits of their Social Security number. That employee said she wasn’t concerned with the evidence lockers, but frequently went in the room because it contained records, a medicine cabinet and general office supplies.

Another department employee said he never dealt with evidence in his duties, but had access to the evidence locker room because vehicle keys were kept there.

• Parker, elected sheriff in 2014 and the county’s chief deputy for eight years before that, told Martinez he did not have access to the evidence lockers or the evidence vault for integrity purposes. As sheriff, he said he didn’t want anything to do with evidence. He said there was no excuse for currency to stay in a temporary locker for more than a day, and that it should have either been taken to district court or the county treasurer’s office for deposit.

• Parker told Martinez the evidence vault had always been a “mess,” that he knew of no sheriff before him who had audited the evidence vault and that he had put in place standards for accreditation purposes.

• Martinez discovered three subsections of the office’s evidence procedure were not followed, including inventories when an evidence custodian leaves that position, annual evidence audits and unannounced inspections of storage areas.

“Department personnel lack guidance and training in the day to day handling of evidence, especially currency,” Martinez wrote in his report. “This became evident during the interviews as they gave varying degrees of understanding and knowledge on the subject.”

County Manager Amber Hamilton directed questions on the matter to Parker, but said that it was her understanding Parker committed to retraining staff about evidence policies following the incident.

Parker did not respond to multiple phone or email inquiries from The News.

• All department personnel submitted personal bank records in connection with the case, but Martinez didn’t notice any suspicious activity, according to his report.

 
 

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