A gun’s gone missing at the Manchester Police Department and it’s been missing for some time. The Manchester Police Department has some 140,000 pieces of evidence in storage. Recently, all of it had to be moved to the department’s new headquarters on Valley Street.
Did it get “lost” in the move or lost somehow else?
Possibly, said Assistant Chief Nick Willard. If it did, though, it would have been the only piece of evidence lost in the move or otherwise.
The department conducts several audits each year ensure that the procedures used to collect, catalog and store evidence are working as intended. The audits are conducted by personnel not associated with maintaining the evidence room to ensure objectivity. In compliance with Standard Operating Procedures and in accordance with accreditation standards, an annual, two semi annual and two unannounced audits are conducted each year.
In addition to making sure things are properly accounted for, the audits look to see that materials returned to their owners or destroyed by the department were done so properly, in accordance with established procedures. Note: As it is not possible to audit all 140,000 pieces of evidence, the audits are conducted by random samplings. In materials reviewed by Girard at Large, the numbers of items audited ranged from as few as 100 to as many as 1.037.
With the exception of a penny missing from a bag of change that broke, recent audits have not turned up any missing evidence and indicate that department procedures regarding the collection, maintenance and release or destruction of evidence are effective and being followed. (Evidence Audit, Evidence CALEA 2013)
The whereabouts of missing gun, however, continues to flummox department officials.
It was originally taken from Christopher Jaskiel on August 1, 2011 following an altercation that saw him convicted for criminal threatening about 14 months later. Immediately following the conviction, the department requested and received permission from the court to destroy all evidence connected to the case. A review of the department’s Property and Evidence Vouchers indicates that all other evidence associated with this case was destroyed per the Notice of Superior Court Disposition.
Was it destroyed? “That’s my gut feeling,” said Willard. “But we just don’t know.”
Was it stolen? Willard doesn’t think so. “It was a piece of junk,” he said. “It was so old it didn’t have a serial number on it,” he said. “I can’t imagine that anyone would want it. It just wasn’t in good shape.” He was quick to add that even if it had been a great gun, he’d doubt it was stolen.
There is a fourth option, which is probably the most unsettling to the department. The gun could have been wrongly released to someone who came to claim other items.
That’s happened in recent history and the department’s taking steps to determine if it happened in this case.
On May 22, 2012 the department was called to the Sheraton Four Points Hotel on John E. Devine Drive for a shooting incident which was determined to be accidental. During the initial investigation the accidentally discharged gun was taken by officers at the scene and placed into evidence. On June 4th, the gun’s owner made arrangements to reclaim his gun from the department. However, when he arrived the gun could not be found. He was so advised and asked to come back at a later time to give the evidence technicians an opportunity to locate it.
He came back on June 7th. The evidence technicians remained unable to locate the gun. The owner demanding to speak with a supervisor, technicians Judith Routhier and David Dydo went to Willard, then the captain overseeing their operation and explained the situation. Willard met with the gun’s owner and said he would be in touch once the firearm had been located.
Willard opened an official investigation to determine the “chain of custody” that had handled the gun. After interviewing Routhier and Dydo the next day, Willard reviewed department surveillance tapes of the prior evidence returns on June 4th and noticed that Routhier had handed four gun boxes to the individual who retrieved his weapons before the owner of the missing gun. That person should only have received three
Willard contacted the individual, went to his house, and retrieved the improperly given gun. It was then returned to its rightful owner.
When asked about information Girard at Large received claiming Routhier was terminated over the incident, Willard said that information was inaccurate, but confirmed she no longer works for the department. In the investigation to determine the “chain of custody” that found the other missing gun, Willard wrote that in watching the surveillance video, he noticed “Routhier made no attempt to verify that she was releasing the proper weapons. She made no effort to check the case numbers on the outside of the boxes, count the number boxes, or opened each box to verify, individually, that she was returning the proper property to (the recipient).”
The department is in the process of contacting 111 individuals that had a total of 222 guns returned to them in an effort to ascertain if anyone of them wrongly received the weapon.
Said Willard: “We’re not happy about this. In spite of our best efforts, policies and protocols, we have failed in this instance. A failure of missing property, most importantly a firearm, is unacceptable. We need to ensure this never happens again.”