Tennessee Comptrollers have called out officials in yet another county for doing a lousy job keeping tabs on evidence they seize from other people — this time in Sullivan County.
According to Comptrollers, deputies with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office kept this property a lot longer than they should have.
“When reviewing the evidence logs, auditors were assured that all seized cash had been deposited into the official bank account used for evidence. However, during a review of the evidence room with the officers on duty, we observed that cash totaling $42,141 was being maintained in a safe. This cash related to approximately 66 cases dating as far back as 2005,” auditors wrote.
“Evidence logs for many of these cases indicated that these seized funds had been deposited in a prior year. Since evidence logs were not adequately updated and maintained, we were unable to determine if the office properly accounted for all evidence and seized property. All seized cash in the safe was deposited subsequent to June 30, 2018.”
Auditors also called out the county’s evidence custodian for not always issuing property receipts.
“From our review, only two property receipts were issued by the evidence custodian for the entire 2017-18 fiscal year; however, multiple items were processed and added to the evidence inventory records,” according to the Comptrollers’ report.
“The failure to issue property receipts decreases controls over evidence and increases the risk of loss.”
In a written response, Sheriff Jeff Cassidy told auditors he concurred with the audit findings and has made corrections.
As The Tennessee Star reported, law enforcements’ misuse of evidence is a problem statewide.
Humphreys County Sheriff’s officers took more than $16,000 in money from their Drug Control Fund and used it to pay for things they weren’t legally allowed to, according to one recent audit.
This, of course, is money law enforcement officers confiscate from alleged drug crimes.
In that case, sheriff’s officers spent $1,911 of that money on travel, $1,620 on sponsorships, $5,486 on repairs, $4,148 on transportation costs, and $3,031 on other materials and supplies.
According to state law, Drug Control Fund money can only go to local drug enforcement or education programs or nonrecurring general law enforcement expenditures.
The Star and The Tennessee Watchdog have long documented case after case of police abusing their civil forfeiture powers and not keeping a proper inventory of what they had.
Also, as reported, members of the Hickman County Sheriff’s Office didn’t follow state law on how they handle money they seize from criminal drug suspects.
They also aren’t following the rules on how they pay confidential informants.
Elsewhere, according to a 2015 Tennessee Watchdog report, Morristown Police seized cars and demanded cash, which a police sergeant allegedly kept for himself — $6,000 in all.
More recently, according to The Star, members of the Caryville Police Department confiscated other people’s guns and tried to trade them before getting the proper permission.
Also, as reported, in 2011, the Wartburg Police Department seized a BMW sedan after arresting its owner on narcotics charges, and, according to an audit, the police captain’s wife used it at her house.
Tennessee law says the captain’s wife, a reserve officer, wasn’t supposed to use the car for anything other than drug enforcement purposes.
As The Star reported in September, Tennessee’s civil forfeiture laws remain among the least protective of property owners in the nation, according to a State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Shelby County Sheriff Cop Car” by Thomas R Machnitzki. CC BY-SA 3.0.