LEGISLATIVE STATE POLICE AUDIT REVEALS SERIOUS PROBLEMS - Lemmon Resigns, Problems Widespread

(12/12/2008)

By Bob Weaver

A survey conducted by the West Virginia Legislature that used feedback from WV State Police troopers, has resulted in allegations indicating a lack of supervision, discriminate supervision, and the frequent loss of evidence, with a large number of officers saying they are punished for not writing enough tickets.

Shortly after the audit was released, Col. David Lemmon, head of the agency resigned.

This is the first time a quota system, ruled illegal in most states, has been given some verification, although agency officials continue to deny its' official existence.

A majority of State Police troopers believe there are not enough officers in the field throughout West Virginia, implying the quota system could be taking away from actual criminal investigation.

Gail Higgins, acting legislative research manager, said the national average of 2.5 law enforcement officers for every 1,000 residents. West Virginia has a ratio of 1.69 officers.

  See performance review

About 30 percent of the troopers said they're punished for not meeting that quota, while others indicated they are arbitrarily relocated as a form of discipline.

  See survey comments

Legislative auditors questioned all 445 troopers assigned to field posts in May.

At least 82 percent responded to the 26-question survey, which yielded more than 1,800 comments.

Surveyed troopers complained that shortages frequently force overtime, and that the department fails to compensate officers while "on call."

"In the event of an emergency, the 'on call' officer responding may not be within the same county as the incident," the audit said.

The audit uncovered problems with record-keeping and evidence storage at State Police detachments around the state.

Numerous problems with lost evidence, sometimes with allegations of stolen evidence, have surfaced several times in Calhoun County.

An internal investigation regarding missing evidence appears to have resulted in the dismissal of a recent Grantsville detachment commander, although no charges have been filed against him.

More problems surfaced for the Grantsville State Police in a case linked to the county's most gruesome double murders.

Evidence and missing money problems were revealed during a re-trial hearing for Ronnie Rush, who had been convicted of slaying 69-year-old Warden Groves and 60-year-old Mary Hicks of Sand Ridge in 2003.

Defense attorney Teresa Monk said there are problems with missing money linked to the case, indicating the money had been in the custody of officers of the Grantsville Detachment.

Monk also said during the hearing that State Police said they didn't count the money because they were going to test it for fingerprints.

She said the fingerprint tests never happened, and indicated testing could be done four years after the commission of the crime.

The WV Supreme Court ruled for a a re-trial following Rush's first conviction, based on numerous instances where officers violated Rush's constitutional rights, indicating unprofessional behavior and misrepresentation of facts.

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Now, a second request for a retrial is before the high court, based on a tainted jury, after Cpl. Doug Starcher commiserated with jurors during a lunch break.

A random audit of evidence rooms at eight State Police detachments found widespread and frequent inadequacies in documenting and safeguarding evidence.

DISCLOSURES:

* Time lags as long as 200 days or more from the time evidence was seized to the time it was logged and stored in detachment evidence rooms.

* Failure to secure cash and jewelry in the detachment safe-deposit box.

* Numerous problems with failure to adequately document evidence, including failing to document when evidence was destroyed or released to its owner.

* $3,075 in cash seized in a drug case was left in temporary storage in the Kingwood detachment for 258 days before it was secured in the detachment's safe-deposit box.

* In another case, auditors noted that a criminal investigation report at the Martinsburg detachment showed that 8 pounds of marijuana had been seized but had not been logged.

"During our initial inquiries about the location of the eight pounds of marijuana, detachment personnel were under the impression the marijuana was still in the possession of the laboratory," the audit found.

"When detachment personnel called the laboratory, they were informed that the marijuana had been returned to the detachment."

The audit notes that once the evidence was located at the detachment, the weight of the marijuana was 5.22 pounds.

"This resulted in a discrepancy of approximately 2.88 pounds that we were unable to resolve from the documentation provided," the audit says.

State Police Deputy Superintendent Steve Tucker told the legislative Audits Committee there was no reason to believe any evidence had been lost.

While the audit found no evidence that gas had been stolen or used for personal vehicles, the audit warned that the lack of adequate record keeping could lead to problems.


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