DA drops dozens of cases after evidence is stolen from Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Someone stole money, guns, and drugs from Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office property and evidence. The district attorney says the theft has forced him to dismiss 30 cases so far.

Sheriff Jeff Easter says a sheriff’s office property and evidence supervisor and a property and evidence technician are no longer working for the sheriff’s office. They have not been arrested.

“It’s very frustrating, and it’s very embarrassing to be real honest with you,” said Sheriff Jeff Easter.

The sheriff says an administrative investigation of the technician began on Jan. 24, 2020. Easter says it was for not following proper procedures and for policy violations.

The employee was suspended on Feb. 3.

On Feb, 5, the supervisor was reassigned to another function in the sheriff’s office. The sheriff says it was because of these policy and procedure violations.

On Feb. 26, Easter says the administrative investigation turned into a criminal investigation.

As of Feb. 27, the two employees are no longer with the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff says an internal audit shows that items that were set for destruction were missing from property and evidence.

He says the timeline of effective cases goes back several years and his office has been working to identify what is missing.

“Over 50,000 pieces of evidence are stored in property and evidence,” he said. “Currently, what we know is approximate $145,000 is missing, numerous amounts of drugs and seven guns and power tools have been stolen.”

One of the stolen guns has been recovered.

“It was very evident that we were missing items that were never officially destroyed and we felt that this particular supervisor had stolen those items and converted them to his own use,” he said.

“The problem was, he was a supervisor and he went unchecked by other supervision. So there wasn’t any spot audits that were being done in the last year and a half, those type of things. And so he took full advantage of being the supervisor and having all this property available to him, and had tried to cover his tracks of stealing our property.”

The sheriff said the investigation is continuing, and they are putting together a case to present to the district attorney.

Easter says his office has been keeping District Attorney Marc Bennett advised about the criminal investigation and how the missing evidence could affect open cases.

District Attorney Marc Bennett said his office has gone reviewed over 500 cases and is dismissing about 30 drug cases so far.

“We’ve dismissed already about 30, and they are reviewing another 40 or so,” Bennett said.

“That doesn’t mean they’re going to remain dismissed,” said Bennett. “But we’re not going to keep somebody in custody, or risk putting them in custody until we can go back and do a complete inventory and audit and ensure that the integrity of that particular case is something we can defend in court.”

Bennett says he has notified criminal defense attorneys, the chief administrative judge, and the criminal defense bar.

He said he will keep them advised as the inventory audit is completed.

“If cases are compromised, we’ll make a decision about whether we can move forward, or they’ll need to be dismissed,” said Bennett.

“We’ll make sure that any case that goes forward or that ends up in court is something we can defend the integrity of and defend in court, and on appeal,” he said.

Sheriff Easter says his office is making sure this never happens again.

“At this point, all I can do as a leader is put those checks and balances in place to get the items that are a priority for the DA’s office, salvage those cases, make sure we have the right people in place so that this does not happen again,” Easter explained.

“Other than losing Deputy Kunze, this is probably the second-worst thing that’s ever happened in my career, ’cause it’s under my leadership,” he said. “So we will take the actions to correct it, we’ll take actions to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and we’ll take actions to hopefully hold the people responsible accountable in a court of law.”

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