KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — Procedural changes were made after case evidence from police storage lockers was compromised by animals, according to Hawaii police.
Hawaii County police attribute the loss of DNA evidence in two separate high-profile 2016 criminal cases to rodents. The items — a bloodied wadding from a shotgun shell and a tampon — were drying in an outdoor locker when police believe a mongoose, or other type of rodent, crept in and snatched them, West Hawaii Today reported .
“There are a lot of critters outside the police department,” said Hawaii Police Department Area II Assistant Chief Mitchell Kanehailua, who was stationed in Kona at the time of the evidence disappearance. “We have taken steps to mitigate the problem.”
The lost DNA evidence was brought to public awareness last week when defense attorneys attempted to suppress all DNA evidence and drop sexual assault charges because of the loss or spoilage of the tampon in a reported 2016 rape case.
While appalled, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Robert D.S. Kim determined the loss to be negligent, and he denied the motion, as the charges, he said, were far too serious to drop.
“What were they thinking?” Kim asked the prosecuting attorney Monday. “Don’t you think in a sex assault case a tampon in a victim is critical in this case?”
Kanehailua agreed that when animals tamper with evidence in the outdoor locker it definitely affects integrity. “Sometimes these things happen, however, we have taken steps to make sure they don’t,” he said.
The outdoor evidence locker at the Kona police station is a large cage. Within that cage are smaller cages where police store collected evidence. After the incidents of lost evidence, police reinforced the smaller cages with smaller screening to keep mongooses and other animals out.
Since then, Kanehailua said, there have been no incidents or indications of animals taking evidence.
Generally, DNA evidence is stored in a controlled room, where it can be air conditioned.
Major Robert Wagner said the outdoor storage is a fenced-in area, a car cage, and a cage containing cages within. Ninety-nine percent of evidence storage is indoors. “No DNA evidence is stored outside, but occasionally may be temporarily outside in order to air dry,” he said.
Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com