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Officials to review decades of criminal cases after Eastern Shore police find employee potentially tainted evidence

Officials on the Eastern Shore are reviewing decades worth of criminal cases after an internal audit of the Salisbury Police Department found that a civilian employee may have committed multiple thefts and compromised evidence while working at the department’s property storage facility.

The department announced this month that, during an audit of its property storage facility, officials “discovered evidence of a series of potentially egregious breaches of internal policy by a civilian employee” who “may have committed one or more thefts while working in the property storage facility.”

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Salisbury police did not name the employee nor announce any charges filed against them, but wrote that the department has been in contact with the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office about “evidence that a crime — or crimes — may have been committed.”

“The community needs to know that when they give you their trust, you’re going to do the right thing when they’re not looking” Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan said. “As a law enforcement agency, integrity is paramount for us, so this situation is disappointing. It’s frustrating."

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In a statement, the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office wrote that Maryland State Police will conduct a criminal investigation as well as consult on an inventory of the department’s property storage facilities after the office requested an outside agency handle the investigation.

The office wrote it will disclose all criminal cases from April 22, 1997, through Feb. 7, 2020, that contain evidence “that is or was being held in the custody of the Salisbury Police department." It is unknown how long the investigation will take, the office wrote. It did not specify why the time period was chosen or whether it aligns with the person’s time of employment at the police department.

With potentially decades worth of cases being compromised, the state’s Public Defender’s Office said it too has begun to review those criminal cases, writing that potentially thousands of cases could be effected by the potential breach.

“Evidence integrity is a fundamental component of a fair trial,” said Chasity Simpson, district public defender for Wicomico County.

“While the details on the extent of the issue are still forthcoming, this could impact hundreds or even thousands of former clients,” she continued. “We are examining current cases to determine which may be impacted and warrant dismissal, and are committed to ensuring that former clients whose case may have had compromised evidence at any stage are able to clear their names.”

Becky Feldman, deputy public defender for Maryland, wrote that officials with in the public defender’s Wicomico County office, Post-Conviction Division, Appellate Division and Administration will be reviewing cases “to gather as much information as possible, determine the impact on individual cases, and identify next steps that may be needed.”

The office is asking anyone with a criminal conviction or pending case that involves evidence held by the Salisbury Police Department to call 410-635-0046 or fill out a form online.

Salisbury is the largest city in Wicomico County, with a population estimated to be roughly 33,000 people in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Salisbury police officers have made 28,738 arrests from 2009 through 2019, according to statistics from the police department.

The department wrote that it found the potential theft while conducting an internal audit in preparation for a review by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

The commission awards accreditation to qualified departments that apply and does regular inspections to ensure departments are upholding the standards needed to be an accredited agency.

Salisbury police wrote that of the 16 inspections the commission has conducted ever since the department sought accreditation in 1987, “not one inspection to date has revealed any evidence of either breaches in protocol, or illegal activity in the property storage facility, or anywhere else within” the department.

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