No criminal charges after AG probe into Braintree police evidence room scandal
A Braintree police officer pilfered guns, drugs, and cash from the department’s evidence room, an attorney general’s investigation has found, but the probe will not result in criminal charges because of the officer’s death.
The office found evidence that Susan Zopatti , who was in charge of the evidence room from the summer of 2013 until her death in May 2016, stole contraband and cash from the room, according to a report made public on Wednesday.
Zopatti, identified as Evidence Officer No. 2 in the report, killed herself a week after an auditor brought in to inspect the evidence room spoke with her for the first time. As a result, no criminal charges will be filed, the attorney general’s office said.
“The death of the individual who stole the evidence precludes any further criminal action and the evidence did not support criminal charges against any other individual,” said Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, in a statement.
The problems plaguing Braintree police’s evidence room have affected scores of criminal cases, resulting in 185 cases being either dropped or dismissed, according to authorities. Most of those cases were drug-related, according to David Traub, a spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office.
“There were also cases, like larceny cases, where we went forward with a weaker case because an item of evidence was not available, or where one or two counts in a multicount complaint had to be dismissed, but we went forward on the others,” said Traub in an e-mail Wednesday.
The attorney general’s investigation, which was launched in 2016, found evidence that Zopatti used her access to the evidence room to take three guns. The gun she used to commit suicide was a 9mm Smith & Wesson pistol that a resident had turned into Braintree police in October 2015. She had contacted the previous owner about buying it, but the sale never occurred, according to the report.
Nonetheless, state records show the gun’s ownership was transferred to Zopatti in 2015. Additionally, about three weeks after her death, her husband was cleaning out a vacation trailer when he found a Beretta and a Glock that had both been in the department’s evidence room.
“The investigation did not find any legitimate reason for the guns to be in the trailer behind Evidence Officer No. 2’s house instead of the evidence room,” read the report.
There was also circumstantial evidence that Zopatti took drugs that went missing from the evidence room for personal use, the report said.
When a colleague was cleaning out Zopatti’s desk after her death, she found clear plastic bags of white powder, in addition to loose white powder, in a drawer, according to the report. All the bags tested positive for cocaine and had the numerical markings that were consistent with markings used when drugs were processed at a state drug lab. Later, a straw was found in her desk that tested positive for cocaine residue. Additionally, auditors could not locate drugs that should have been in the evidence room, according to the report.
The investigation also found circumstantial evidence that Zopatti stole cash from the evidence room. Audits that focused on cash intakes in the years after Zopatti became evidence officer revealed “numerous evidence bags that were missing entirely,” and two that had been compromised. One Braintree police audit could not find more than $16,000 from bags that were missing or were compromised, according to the attorney general’s report.
From September 2013 to March 2016, Zopatti made cash deposits totalling $29,875, deposits her husband could not explain, according to the attorney general’s office.
An initial audit that examined evidence going back to 1999 found that more than $400,000 of seized money had vanished from the evidence room. A subsequent audit, however, dropped the amount of cash missing to more than $255,000, including more than $90,000 from drug cases that the court, at the end of the case, ordered forfeited.
The attorney general’s investigation did not find evidence that administrative staff knew Zopatti was stealing cash, or that anyone intentionally aided and abetted her misconduct.
The probe did find that administrative staff initiated payments to the district attorney’s office without telling superior officers or town management that they had “not received forfeited cash from the evidence room.”
“Whether Evidence Officer No. 2 was solely responsible for all of the missing evidence is a question the investigation cannot conclusively answer,” read the report. “What can be said is that the investigation did not find evidence anyone else was stealing from the evidence room.”
Although the state will not bring charges, the town of Braintree in a statement said it “intends to move forward with the disciplinary process for the remaining two employees that have been identified in these investigations and put these unfortunate events behind us.”
“Public safety continues to be the priority for our law enforcement officers, and the residents of Braintree will continue to receive the high-quality service from our officers that they deserve and expect,” said Braintree Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan in a statement.