Wednesday, June 14, 2017
SJ [San Joaquin] County Grand Jury issues report on evidence rooms
STOCKTON — The 2016-2017 San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury released its report Tuesday on property and evidence rooms maintained by 11 law enforcement agencies within San Joaquin County. The investigation was prompted by a citizen’s complaint that alleged 10,000 pieces of evidence were either “lost or missing” from the county sheriff’s property room.
The grand jury could not substantiate that any property was missing from the Sheriff’s Office property room. It did, however, make other discoveries and propose recommendations for improvements.
The grand jury’s investigation consisted of reviewing documentation, conducting interviews and visiting sites.
Property rooms are not just warehouses, the report noted.
“The collection and safekeeping of evidence obtained from a crime scene is a vital component of the judicial process,” the report said. “Proper handling, packaging, testing, disposal and tracking of evidence can lead to the effective prosecution of criminal offenders or confirmation of innocence.”
What the grand jury found was a lack of priority in training for management and staff assigned to many of the property rooms. There also is a lack of storage space and a lack of consistency in auditing and inspections. The Sheriff’s Office is in the process of conducting a thorough inventory, according to the report.
While the investigation was sparked specifically by a complaint aimed at the Sheriff’s Office, the grand jury also looked at evidence and property rooms maintained by six city police departments (Escalon, Lodi, Manteca, Ripon, Stockton and Tracy), three school-based police departments (San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton Unified and University of the Pacific) and the county District Attorney’s Office.
It based its review on determining each agency’s compliance with its own policies and procedures and those recommended by state and national standards.
The grand jury recommended that several of the agencies develop authorized policies and procedures, implement annual audits and monthly inspections, and develop a training plan for property clerks and supervisors responsible for the management of the property and evidence rooms and staff.
In its review of both the Stockton and Tracy police property rooms, the grand jury held them up as examples to be replicated “for the professional manner in which they operate. ... (Each) department is an outstanding example of property and evidence room management by following best practices and procedures.”
That was not the case for the Sheriff’s Office, however, where 22,516 items were booked into its property room in 2016, an average of 62 items per day. It found that general supervision of its property room “does not occur on a regular, consistent manner.”
The grand jury looked at five years of logs from November 2011 through November 2015 and found that the first-level supervisor entered the property room 95 times. During one seven-month span, there were no log-ins verifying the supervisor’s visit.
When it comes to training, the grand jury report stated “training is not a priority for the Sheriff’s Department property room.” It recommended a policy be in place by Dec. 31 for training custodians, technicians and supervisors who work in the property room.
According to the sheriff’s own written policies, inspections are to be done monthly but the grand jury found that the practice was not followed. Unannounced inspections are to be conducted annually but were routinely done at the same time as the annual audits.
As for the annual audits, a labor-intensive procedure to be conducted by a division captain “not routinely connected with evidence control,” audits were completed in February 2013, August 2015 and October 2016. No audit was done in 2014, according to the grand jury, for a variety of reasons.
The grand jury has asked the Sheriff’s Office to complete a full inventory of its property room and report back by Dec. 31 of this year.
In a written response issued Tuesday, Sheriff Steve Moore described the grand jury’s report as “thorough and comprehensive” and welcomed the chance “to refocus our efforts” on property room operations.
“While the Sheriff’s Office has and will continue to strive to achieve the goal of providing quality public service in all areas of our responsibilities, we find that in this facet of our operation we have not measured up. As sheriff, I take responsibility for this shortfall,” Moore said.
“I can assure the public that through the work of the grand jury and the support of county government, the Sheriff’s Office will address each identified point. We will implement new procedures, allocate new staff, provide upgraded training/equipment and establish clear, fixed oversight responsibilities of our property room operation in a timely manner,” his statement continued.
Moore stated the requested property room inventory is more than 60 percent complete and should be concluded by September.
Frank Gayaldo, a former employee of the Sheriff’s Office and outspoken critic of Sheriff Moore, still questioned whether all the evidence was accounted for despite the grand jury’s findings.
“Internal complaints have been going on for years. It is an open secret that guns, money and drugs are missing. How convenient that the sheriff still hasn’t completed his inventory. Obviously there is a break in the chain of custody of their inventory (and it) is not up-to-the-minute current,” Gayaldo said in an email after reviewing the grand jury report.
June 13, 2017
By Joe Goldeen