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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesFORENSICS 'WORSE THAN EVER,' EVIDENCE AT RISK

FORENSICS 'WORSE THAN EVER,' EVIDENCE AT RISK

Monday's fatal drive-by shooting in Anna's Retreat and three Wednesday shootings that left two dead and two others injured have underscored the problems confronting the Police Department Forensics Unit on St. Thomas.
Law enforcement sources said the problems would hinder the government's ability to prosecute criminals successfully.
The process by which detectives "acquire, process and preserve evidence has all but hit rock bottom," a well-placed law-enforcement source said Wednesday.
Speaking to St. Thomas Source on the condition of anonymity, officers assigned to the forensics unit said the problems with evidence processing are worse now than ever.
"There is simply no place to store, dry or process bloody clothes that are removed from victims of violent crimes," an officer said. "We can't analyze blood samples, urine samples or even evidence in rape kits which are administered to victims of sexual assault."
In fact, the officer pointed to a confrontation Wednesday afternoon between a forensics supervisor and a lieutenant in the Investigation Bureau over the breakdown of forensics unit operations.
Police Commissioner Franz Christian directed the unit to vacate the crime laboratory last month after the building had been declared contaminated. Forensics now occupies office space in Nisky Center at the Investigation Bureau. However, forensics officers say the limited space does not provide facilities or adequate ventilation needed to process evidence gathered at crime scenes, process and preserve blood evidence, or perform basic fingerprinting functions.
"Every time we pick up bloody clothes or rape kits, there is uncertainty as to whether this crucial evidence will ever be safeguarded," one officer said.
At a Senate hearing Tuesday night, St. Croix Police Benevolent Association president Naomi Joseph spoke of the poor working conditions at the forensic units on both islands.
"If you have a break-in at your home and can't tell the police who you think the suspect is, those fingerprints recovered will sit there and collect dust," she said.
On Wednesday, the situation came to a head when a lieutenant ordered the forensics supervisor to enter the contaminated building on Veterans Drive to store evidence gathered at the scene of the Hospital Ground shooting and from the autopsy of Ellis Blyden Jr., who was killed Monday in Anna's Retreat. The forensics officer refused.
Officers produced documents that date back to 1994 when letters were written to then-Commissioner Anthon Christian detailing the problems and imploring the department to develop a solution.
Like the Zone A Command personnel temporarily working out of the old Norre Gade facility, the forensics team — two supervisors, four officers and five crime scene technicians — is scheduled to move back into the renovated Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex. But when that move will occur is up in the air, as flooding continues and funds are needed to install security devices at the once and future police headquarters.
Until that time, or until some other adequate working space is secured for forensics detectives, officers fear that "any evidence gathered will be at risk." Even worse, one officer said, "the perpetrators may never be brought to justice" simply because the evidence to link suspects to crime scenes is "just not there."
In frustration, one officer said, "Why even call forensics to the scene of a stabbing, robbery, shooting, rape or murder? What's the point?"

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Monday's fatal drive-by shooting in Anna's Retreat and three Wednesday shootings that left two dead and two others injured have underscored the problems confronting the Police Department Forensics Unit on St. Thomas.
Law enforcement sources said the problems would hinder the government's ability to prosecute criminals successfully.
The process by which detectives "acquire, process and preserve evidence has all but hit rock bottom," a well-placed law-enforcement source said Wednesday.
Speaking to St. Thomas Source on the condition of anonymity, officers assigned to the forensics unit said the problems with evidence processing are worse now than ever.
"There is simply no place to store, dry or process bloody clothes that are removed from victims of violent crimes," an officer said. "We can't analyze blood samples, urine samples or even evidence in rape kits which are administered to victims of sexual assault."
In fact, the officer pointed to a confrontation Wednesday afternoon between a forensics supervisor and a lieutenant in the Investigation Bureau over the breakdown of forensics unit operations.
Police Commissioner Franz Christian directed the unit to vacate the crime laboratory last month after the building had been declared contaminated. Forensics now occupies office space in Nisky Center at the Investigation Bureau. However, forensics officers say the limited space does not provide facilities or adequate ventilation needed to process evidence gathered at crime scenes, process and preserve blood evidence, or perform basic fingerprinting functions.
"Every time we pick up bloody clothes or rape kits, there is uncertainty as to whether this crucial evidence will ever be safeguarded," one officer said.
At a Senate hearing Tuesday night, St. Croix Police Benevolent Association president Naomi Joseph spoke of the poor working conditions at the forensic units on both islands.
"If you have a break-in at your home and can't tell the police who you think the suspect is, those fingerprints recovered will sit there and collect dust," she said.
On Wednesday, the situation came to a head when a lieutenant ordered the forensics supervisor to enter the contaminated building on Veterans Drive to store evidence gathered at the scene of the Hospital Ground shooting and from the autopsy of Ellis Blyden Jr., who was killed Monday in Anna's Retreat. The forensics officer refused.
Officers produced documents that date back to 1994 when letters were written to then-Commissioner Anthon Christian detailing the problems and imploring the department to develop a solution.
Like the Zone A Command personnel temporarily working out of the old Norre Gade facility, the forensics team -- two supervisors, four officers and five crime scene technicians -- is scheduled to move back into the renovated Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex. But when that move will occur is up in the air, as flooding continues and funds are needed to install security devices at the once and future police headquarters.
Until that time, or until some other adequate working space is secured for forensics detectives, officers fear that "any evidence gathered will be at risk." Even worse, one officer said, "the perpetrators may never be brought to justice" simply because the evidence to link suspects to crime scenes is "just not there."
In frustration, one officer said, "Why even call forensics to the scene of a stabbing, robbery, shooting, rape or murder? What's the point?"