Aurora Police: DNA evidence improperly destroyed in dozens of cases

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AURORA, Colo. -- The Aurora Police chief announced that DNA in at least 48 alleged sex assault cases has been improperly destroyed.

Chief Dan Oates held a news conference Tuesday night to announce the discovery. The late hour of the news conference was so that the chief could meet with the victim in a sex assault case where the evidence was destroyed.

"Obviously this is not a good day for the department," Oates says. He added the department admits to the mistakes. "We had a system breakdown that led to the destruction of some evidence."

The evidence destruction can impact prosecution, investigation and appeal of these cases.

"This is dramatic. This is unheard of and it could have dramatic consequences for these cases," says legal consultant and defense attorney Dan Recht. "The prosecution needs this evidence if they're going to convict people that have done something wrong. And, they need this evidence so that wrongfully accused people don't get convicted."

Oates says prosecution of one case won't be possible because of the evidence destruction. ""We were on a path to charge a suspect, but now this case is not prosecutable."

The chief met with the victim prior to the news conference to inform her of the situation. He says she was "understanding," perhaps more so than he would've been himself under the circumstances.

The Details
The cases where evidence was destroyed are from 2009. The police department realized something was wrong in early June 2013.

"The Department recently became aware that in some 2009 cases, potential or actual DNA evidence was destroyed in error, and in some cases, this was done in apparent violation of [state] statute. The problem came to light when there was a DNA match made in a 2009 sex assault case. The detective assigned to the case discovered that the remaining DNA evidence in APD custody, and all other evidence in the case, had been destroyed in error. The Department immediately began an investigation to determine the extent of the problem."

"Well intentioned people made a mistake here, and we have to fix the mistake," Oates says. He described the problem as a systems failure. "This is a tragic mistake." Oates says no one was trying to harm the rights of victims in the 48 cases.

"In 18 of these cases, the lead detective in the case apparently recommended the destruction of the evidence, which is only the first step in the APD protocol, and is supposed to be followed by a review of the case by a Property and Evidence Unit technician to ensure that destruction is permissible under the law. In these 18 cases, that evaluation apparently did not occur and the evidence was destroyed," APD says.

"In the remaining 30 cases, an injured officer assigned to light duty in the Property and Evidence Unit apparently destroyed all the evidence in error and did not follow APD protocol."

"There are some other cases that we're looking into and we don't know the totality. We will be doing a comprehensive review to see if there are any other cases," Oates says.

All evidence destruction has been halted by the Aurora Police Department.

The chief requested an expert panel to convene to review the matter to recommend ways to make sure this doesn't happen again.

The department has already said evidence in the Aurora theater shooting case is not affected.