Police property room not tainted, chief says

July 31, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

County Police Chief James N. Robey says the department's property room where drugs, guns, jewelry and other evidence is stored "has not been compromised" by courtroom testimony that a former clerk helped his girlfriend buy heroin in Baltimore in the spring.

"There is no way it could have been compromised without us knowing about it," Chief Robey said in an interview Friday. "The problem has been caused by Mr. [Clarke] Ahlers choosing to use the allegation] to get something in court."

Mr. Ahlers, a Columbia attorney who is representing a Baltimore man changed with drug possession, told a Circuit Court judge Thursday that allegations against the former property room clerk raise questions about whether there has been any tampering with drugs kept as evidence in the property room.

Mr. Ahlers asked Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. to force the Police Department to produce the personnel records of Ray Leonardy and the records of the department's internal investigation of Mr. Leonardy's activities as a civilian clerk in the property room.

Mr. Leonardy, 49, passed a polygraph test and was cleared of any wrongdoing in the property room, police said.

"I am satisfied there were no problems and no improper action as relates to our property room," Chief Robey said.

An internal investigation of the property room was begun in May "after the senior clerk came to us with an allegation," Chief Robey said.

In court Thursday, Lt. Herman Charity, who heads the department's internal affairs division, testified that Mr. Leonardy said he gave his girlfriend money and went with her to Baltimore where she bought drugs last spring.

Chief Robey said Mr. Leonardy told his supervisor of the incident late on a Friday afternoon in May and was immediately transferred to the quartermaster section, where he continues to work.

Mr. Leonardy had worked in the quartermaster section from April 1989 to November 1992 before becoming property room clerk, Chief Robey said.

As property room clerk, Mr. Leonardy was responsible for maintaining evidence and checking it in and out for trial.

After Mr. Leonardy's transfer to the quartermaster office, the police internal investigations unit received a call from Mr. Ahlers about the allegations, Chief Robey said. "It was substantially the same information that we had already looked into a couple of weeks earlier. There was nothing substantially different than we already had."

This is the second time in two years that the integrity of the police property room procedures has been called into question. In October 1992, the county auditor's office uncovered the gradual theft of $8,000.

A female employee was fired but never charged with taking small amounts of cash -- $40 to $385 -- when no one else was around. Security procedures were altered after the theft, and cash is no longer maintained in the property room.

Police Capt. Stephen E. Drummond now conducts an audit of the property room every month, choosing 10 cases at random. In addition, the department conducts a semiannual audit of all drugs, guns and jewelry in the property room.

Captain Drummond, Chief Robey and two civilian employees are the only Police Department personnel allowed in the property room without an escort, Captain Drummond said. Drugs are kept separate from other property in an air-conditioned and dehumidified safe.

Officers who confiscate evidence when making arrests must seal the evidence in an envelope, put it in a locker and drop the keys to the locker in a slot that leads to the property room. The only way to get the evidence is to break the seal -- something that is easily detectable, Captain Drummond said.

Mr. Ahlers said last week that the allegations against Mr. Leonardy could lead defense attorneys to challenge drug evidence in scores of cases yet to be decided, but Captain Drummond and Chief Robey disagree. They say the allegations against Mr. Leonardy are of a personal nature and do not involve his work in the property room.

"We regulate every bit of this stuff and take every reasonable safeguard to assure its integrity," Captain Drummond said.

"Allegations have been made that we do not have a solid chain of custody because of improper activity" on the part of an employee, Chief Robey said. "But the system of checks and balances is still intact, still sound. The property room has not been compromised."

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