Drugs, guns, and $400,000 missing from Braintree police
BRAINTREE — An audit of the Braintree Police Department’s troubled evidence room revealed that thousands of pieces of drug evidence, dozens of firearms, and over $400,000 of seized money had vanished, town officials said Wednesday.
The audit, which examined evidence going back to 1999, found that heat-sealed drug bags were torn open or cut; bags of cash were sliced open at the bottom; and at least 60 guns, including semiautomatic rifles, had disappeared.
“I find the auditor’s report of unaccounted for items and poor record keeping practices by the Police Department to be deeply troubling and unacceptable,” Mayor Joseph Sullivan said at a news conference Wednesday night. The town, he said, has asked the attorney general’s office to help investigate.
Braintree Police Chief Russell W. Jenkins ordered the audit this spring, after he began to suspect a problem. The officer who ran the evidence room killed herself in May, a week after the auditor spoke with her for the first time.
At the press conference, Sullivan declined to comment on what might have motivated the removal of evidence, saying the investigation was sensitive and ongoing.
Much of the missing evidence was probably disposed of by the department in purges in 2009 and 2012, according to both Sullivan and the audit, conducted by former State Police major Bruce Gordon, who runs Narcotics Audit Solutions.
The evidence purged was not properly recorded, the audit states, and remained in the computers as active. Hundreds of pieces of evidence continued to vanish after 2012, however, when there were no purges being conducted.
The evidence room officer, Susan Zopatti, worked in Braintree for 20 years, and had run the evidence room since 2013.
Sullivan said that since the audit was completed, all but 12 of the firearms had been found. About $140,000 of the missing cash was found, as well, according to a written police response to the audit.
“There is still a lot more work to be done to determine a fully accurate account of these items, and the department is continuing their efforts in that regard,” Sullivan said.
The Police Department disputed some of the audit’s numbers, stating in the written response that the list of evidence auditors were given to search for was “substantially overinclusive.”
The audit examined evidence dating to 1999. Norfolk County officials are now facing the prospect that an untold number of cases may need to be thrown out because evidence was tainted or lost. Sullivan declined to estimate how many cases may be affected. He also declined to specify what tipped off officials that an audit was needed.
“I truly appreciate your desire, the public’s right to know,” Sullivan said. “I want to emphasize that I find these findings troubling, and we are going to take steps to correct them.”
Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said he was looking at having to dismiss 200 to 400 cases, noting that he had already dismissed a half dozen cases over the last three days.
Among them was a slate of drug charges dropped Wednesday against Stephen O’Brien, a Quincy man with 38 prior convictions.
“It is very disturbing that people are now going to be let go after some great work by the Police Department and the district attorney’s office,” Morrissey said. “It’s disheartening.””
The audit revealed that 4,709 pieces of narcotics evidence were missing, and 38 pieces compromised. Drug evidence was stored haphazardly, the audit found. Some samples were not logged in, and others were listed as destroyed”but were found during the audit.
About 2,500 pieces of property evidence were missing, the audit concluded. The property category included entries for cash, videos, sexual assault kits, counterfeit money, vehicles, and bicycles, but it was not clear from the audit what property was actually missing.
The audit found that sexual assault kits were being improperly stored in an outdoor trailer. There was no rhyme or reason to where anything was stored, the audit noted, and there were many property items that did not appear to have any evidentiary value at all.
The audit also discovered hundreds of documents improperly stored in the evidence locker instead of in individual case files.
Seized money was stored in a filing cabinet, but many seizures were logged without an amount. The audit found that $407,989 was missing.
Either 60 or 70 firearms were missing, according to the audit and the police department’s written response.
The audit laid out recommendations for how evidence should be handled in the future, and Sullivan said that new protocols and procedures have already been established.
“I, as well as Chief Jenkins, accept the independent auditor’s recommendations to better secure and preserve current and future evidence and will take the corrective steps necessary to ensure that these new procedures are implemented and adhered to,” Sullivan said.