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Questions swirl around Sarasota Police handling of drug-related evidence

Drug evidence
Posted at 6:00 PM, Sep 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-18 18:00:00-04

SARASOTA, Fla. -- An audit into how the Sarasota Police Department is collecting and processing evidence is now public. The audit which began in August of 2013 found SPD failed to accurately account for thousands of items, including evidence in drug cases.

In all, 2167 drug-related items could not be accounted for during the audit period. It’s a situation eliciting strong reactions from many in the community.

“To have error of this magnitude is very alarming," says defense attorney Andrea Mogensen, referring to the 20 page internal audit into the SPD's property and evidence producers. According to the report, the department is lacking in eight categories -- including three which are of a high priority. That means fraud or serious violations may have occurred, and those violations could include the mishandling of drug evidence.

"839 pounds of marijuana missing unknown disposition, 31 kilograms of cocaine missing unknown disposition -- that’s a lot of missing drugs," Mogensen says.

The unaccounted-for 31 kilograms of cocaine has no date associated with the seizure, but the 839 pounds of marijuana was supposed to be transferred to the DEA in August of 1999. With no record of the transfer, the status of the drugs was listed as unknown in October of 2011.

The comprehensive report shows an additional 2000-plus items out of 53,000 collected had incomplete records, and also cites as violations an out-of-date computer system and failure to properly weigh drug evidence.

"The audit indicated that narcotics were not weighed during intake,” Mogensen says. “It seems to me that that’s part of the process of documentation to insure you have something to check against, when property comes in it weighs x … because narcotics are fungible."

Chief Bernadette DiPino says the missing items are the result of nothing more than clerical errors.

"Some of the things that were found, some of it is human error, but the majority of it really has to do with computers, with the way that administratively things are being processed," the chief says.

DiPino says the department is using an older tracking system that resulted in some items being miscategorized. And while she couldn’t say for sure if that’s what occurred with the missing cocaine and marijuana referred to in the audit, she did say the items have been accounted for.

"All of the drugs, weapons, and money in our property section is [sic] been accounted for and is being held by our property section in the appropriate way," DiPino says.