Harris County police agencies apparently just can't get enough of those property-room screw-ups lately.
The Houston Police Department announced on Wednesday that a sprinkler "malfunctioned" — in the property room freezer. And so now, the department, with help from the Houston Forensic Science Center, has to go through all the boxes and envelopes of evidence in that confined area to assess the damage.
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Thankfully, sprinkler-gate appears — so far — to be only a small, annoying inconvenience compared to the full-blown evidence scandal that erupted at Harris County Precinct 4. In August, news broke that a 14-year Precinct 4 veteran deputy literally incinerated more than a thousand pounds of drug evidence — some of which was still tied to open criminal cases. According to Precinct 4, the fired deputy, Chris Hess, had apparently wrongfully destroyed evidence on several other occasions dating back to 2007, affecting an untold number of cases. So far, the Harris County District Attorney's Office has dismissed 100.
By comparison, HPD is just dealing with some damaged cardboard boxes and envelopes, said Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo in a statement. Most of the evidence contained in those boxes and envelopes was in zip-lock bags and plastic containers, Montalvo said, and so it is unclear for now if any evidence was even damaged to the point that it would affect criminal cases.
"At this time, Property Room evidence technicians are working closely with the Houston Forensic Science Center to ensure evidence is handled properly and are repackaging all items that were affected," Montalvo said. "Until all affected items are opened and inspected, there is no determination if any evidence has or has not been compromised."
If things end up looking worse, we'll be sure to update this story.