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Evidence should not just walk out the door

Johnson City Press • Apr 5, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Remember Otis, the town drunk on “The Andy Griffith Show”? He often wandered into the Mayberry Sheriff’s Office and locked himself up. The key hung right next to the cell door, so Otis simply walked out the same way he came in.

The cell key was a comic exaggeration commenting on the simple life of rural, small-town America.

It’s hard not to think about Otis and that key, though, when looking at the Mountain City Police Department’s recent troubles. Evidence seemed to just walk out the door.

In the wake of the November arrests of two police officers, Lt. Ronald Glen Shupe and Sgt. Ken Lane, on drug charges, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office launched an investigation into the MCPD’s operations.

The result was a scathing report with disturbing findings and recommendations about the department’s evidence custody procedures:

• Unreliable and incomplete evidence logs.

• Evidence bags cut open and missing drugs.

• It was unclear who had been in the evidence room.

• The report called for the MCPD to identify drug evidence and weapons no longer needed.

Yikes, what a mess. Such sloppy record-keeping and unchecked access could place any evidence into question in court and open the door to theft.

Just who had the key and where was it hanging?

Following the findings, Police Chief Denver Church stated in the Comptroller’s report that he had taken steps to improve procedures and security in the evidence room, including a complete inventory and a new log.

The MCPD had installed an evidence drop box monitored by security cameras. New procedures would limit access to only the evidence custodian and log anyone entering the evidence room. Church also said he was seeking a court order to destroy evidence no longer needed in keeping with state law.

All of this should never been in question, even in a town as small and remote as Mountain City. The town should hold Church to his promises on evidence and demand a closer watch on its officers.

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