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WPD, NCSO treat items from criminal investigations more than objects on a shelf

WORTHINGTON -- While Worthington Detective Dave Hoffman would not categorize evidence management as "exciting," it's a continuous procedural system that requires cautious and deliberate handling before, during and following a criminal investigati...

WORTHINGTON - While Worthington Detective Dave Hoffman would not categorize evidence management as “exciting,” it’s a continuous procedural system that requires cautious and deliberate handling before, during and following a criminal investigation or prosecution.

On Sunday, Worthington police officers allegedly discovered 140 grams of methamphetamine and various drug paraphernalia during a traffic stop. In March, the police department also made an historic drug seizure when approximately 482 pounds of marijuana was seized following a traffic stop. Last fall, a Nobles County sheriff’s deputy seized 20 pounds of methamphetamine from a traffic stop along Interstate 90.

When these types and similar seizures occur, what happens to the evidence collected?

The evidence is secured according to evidence-type, each receiving a bar code and recorded in the records management system, said Hoffman, one of four law enforcement personnel with authorized access to the evidence room at the Prairie Justice Center.

Once evidence is secured, it’s placed in a temporary locker, awaiting Hoffman, Nobles County Investigator Melissa Einck or one of their sergeants.

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The evidence is then transferred into the evidence room, which is secured by a passcode. Once inside, the sheriff and city police departments’ evidence is further separated by caged-in sections, which is admissible by a key, further limiting the number of authorized entrants to two on each side.

The evidence is then stored until needed for court, sent for further testing by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or otherwise transferred. That chain of custody is well documented, Hoffman said.

“We always document where it’s been,” Hoffman said. “If you lose that chain of custody, you lose that integrity.”

While the types of evidence collected run the gamut, Einck and Hoffman agree on some of the most common: marijuana, marijuana pipes, guns and money. Burglary tools are also near the top of the list.

Depending on the evidence type, once a criminal proceeding has concluded or it’s otherwise determined evidence no longer needs to be kept, the departments prepare to shift it out of its storage.

If the evidence in question is drugs, it is prepared for destruction. Organic substances like marijuana are transported to an incinerator facility in Mankato, Hoffman said. Because other controlled substances must be incinerated at a facility in the metro area, those substances - like meth or medication received through the sheriff’s office-led drug take back program - are held until there’s enough collected between the police department and sheriff’s office to justify a trip.

That’s only happened once during the last five years Hoffman has managed evidence for the police department.

“Unless there’s some big bust along the interstate, you’re only getting small baggies,” Einck explained.

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Investigations can also lead to the confiscation of money suspected to be tied to criminal activity.

When this happens, Hoffman explained, the money is routed to a bank account.

“No (physical) cash is handled in evidence,” he said.

Following a criminal proceeding, the determination is made whether the money is either released back to the suspect or a victim - or if a forfeiture hearing should be scheduled.

If the money is forfeited related to an illegal drug trade, per state statute, the amount is divided three ways: the investigating law enforcement agency gets 70 percent; the prosecuting agency gets 20 percent; and state of Minnesota gets 10 percent, to be tabbed for officially organized police relief associations.

While illegal drugs result in automatic destruction, other items have more potential avenues when they’re no longer needed for evidence.

If it’s not immediately known, law enforcement will make an attempt to find property’s rightful owner. If an owner cannot be determined, the item will be destroyed, Hoffman said.

If the owner is known, certain items may be returned to their owners regardless of whether they were a victim or suspect in a case. When this determination is made, the owner receives a 90-day notice to retrieve their property.

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Before items are returned to their rightful owner, the owner must sign off on the list of items being returned to them. If the item or items are not picked up within 90 days of correspondence, they’re destroyed.

There’s some evidence, Hoffman explained, that likely won’t be released for a very long time, if ever.

“There’s one wall of evidence that will be there long after I’m gone,” he said.

That evidence usually includes items tied to a homicide, some death or serious assault investigations and cases.

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