Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Butler sheriff tightens property room

10,000 items being inventoried; new procedures aimed at deterring thefts

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - After two employees resigned last year and pleaded to misdemeanor charges involving missing money, the Butler County Sheriff's Office has been conducting an internal audit of thousands of pieces of stored evidence.

Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard said the investigation entered a new stage Monday. One by one, about 10,000 items are being documented and transferred to a new property room equipped with additional safeguards to prevent employees from stealing or mishandling items, the sheriff said. "I'm going to try to seal it up so tight that a fly couldn't get in there without being caught," the sheriff said.

Already, sheriff's personnel have spent hundreds of man-hours doing a preliminary internal audit and investigating additional accusations of property-room improprieties, said Lt. Mike Craft. So far, the audit showed seven guns remain unaccounted for, along with about $4,681 in cash, Craft said.

Record-keeping problems could be to blame, so "there's a chance that we could find some or all of these" seemingly missing items, he said.

But Craft also acknowledges additional discrepancies could surface after everything is checked and logged into a new database.

"There will be clarity at the end of the audit," he said. The process will probably take two more months, officials said. Then they will decide whether more criminal charges or disciplinary action will need to be pursued.

"We're doing everything we can to make this right," Craft said.

Relocation of the property room and revamping its outdated evidence-tracking system had been in the works since at least 1995, said Art Sauerwein, who oversees the property room.

Transferring evidence from the former county jail to Resolutions, the county's minimum-security jail, would have required a reinventory anyway.

But the process is under increased scrutiny because of last year's events.

Two ex-employees admitted taking small amounts of money, Craft said.

However, the women also said they had improperly deleted about 2,000 entries from the property room's database, Craft said.

Donna K. Henderson, 36, and Karen A. Gilbert, 35, resigned their positions and were placed on probation last May after each pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of property and dereliction of duty.

In signed court documents, the women stated that, to their knowledge, "no weapons and/or controlled substances were illegally removed" from the property room while they were employed there.

The county prosecutor's office reserved the right to proceed with additional criminal charges if evidence surfaced indicating otherwise, court records say.

"We are not stating that every problem in the property room is attributed to the two ex-employees," Craft said. "If, at the end of the audit, the evidence points the finger in another direction, we fully intend on taking action against those individuals who are responsible."

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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