This week's winner is not a person but a place: the Memphis Police Department's property and evidence room. Over a period of years, a malevolent spirit emanating from that spot has somehow forced employee after employee to corrupt himself by selling out the back door evidence that came in the front door. According to a state audit released Tuesday, more than $2 million worth of cocaine, 560 pounds of marijuana, 66 guns, and $147,000 in cash have vanished from the evidence room since 1999. That was the year another scathing state audit reported similar problems and warned of worse to come.
Numerous department employees, drug dealers, and others face federal charges. Memphis police officials hired Jay Liner to clean up the operation after the 1999 report. He is now charged with stealing guns, jewelry, golf clubs and bottles of champagne from the room. Former property room supervisor Kenneth Dansberry has already pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges. He told federal agents he once sold 10 kilograms of cocaine off the loading dock, he had forgotten how much coke he sold overall, and that he had so much cash piled up at home in was getting moldy.
The candy store would have been open still but for the arrest of a drug courier in April 2003. He was getting his dope from the evidence room. The man, who has also pleaded guilty to drug charges, said he got the goodies from former property room employee Patrick Maxwell, who awaits trial.
Two more property room employees, Alnita Campbell and Jacqueline Layrock, are charged with taking $100,000 from Dansberry to keep quiet. They are also charged with the theft of another $30,000, as well as destroying evidence envelopes to hide the thefts.
The state audit found a property room almost devoid of controls, without even an employee policy manual, where employees had the ability to alter records. And they were sloppy, the audit found, noting that loose marijuana was laying around on shelves.
Memphis police shut down the room in the basement of the Shelby County Jail once the audit began in September 2003 and have instituted rigorous security procedures to ensure it doesn't happen again, said Memphis Police Deputy Director Ray Schwill. "I was shocked, as I believe everyone was," at the scope of the thefts, he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Michael Heidingsfield, head of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, who called the report "damning," may have been shocked, but only at the extent of the problem, not its existence. "These issues are five years old," he said, "and they involve fundamental police policies."