Experts discuss impact of sewage-tainted evidence thrown out years ago

Posted: 7:45 AM, Sep 29, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-29 07:46:13-04

Ingham County Commissioner Bryan Crenshaw says he and the rest of the commission were only told about part of the sewage problem at the Ingham County Jail.

"We've heard sewage break, sewage break, but I've never heard of evidence had to be destroyed because of the break contamination," Crenshaw said.

He says the evidence room is in the basement above the sewage pipe, and the Commission needed to know that had caused a major problem - leaking that forced the department to destroy evidence.

"Had this been an issue that was brought to our attention, to my attention, that probably would have precipitated the need to investigate this further faster than we are kind of operating at right now," Crenshaw said.

The Commission had been talking with the Sheriff about building a new jail, he says he doesn't understand why the sewage leak wasn't part of the discussion.

"Whenever evidence is destroyed or has to be destroyed it does compromise the investigation or potential conviction of an individual," Crenshaw said.

The destruction of the evidence isn't likely to mean a ton of cases will have to be dismissed, a legal expert says.

"Each one will have to be looked at on its individual merits and, assuming there was no bad faith action, meaning they didn't do it on purpose, by the prosecutor's office or the sheriff's department, then all these cases, assuming there's enough evidence left, can all go to trial," Ron Bretz, a distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Cooley Law School, said.

Another trial attorney says the whole incident is alarming and it should impact how evidence is handled going forward.

"Every time a piece of evidence gets taken out of the evidence room, it should be scanned, it should be tracked," Patrick O'Keefe said.

The Sheriff's Department says it is trying to implement a system that would do just that.