SCHERTZ, Texas – Over a decade worth of evidence was destroyed or removed from the Schertz Police Department’s property room without prosecutorial review, according to a cease and desist letter obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.
The blunder could impact hundreds of cases or more in the three counties Schertz sits in: Guadalupe, Comal and Bexar.
“We want to make sure that every single case that is impacted is clearly known and that’s also required by law for disclosure. We need to let them know,” new Schertz Police Department Chief Jim Lowery told the KSAT 12 Defenders late last month, moments before being formally sworn in.
Lowery, a longtime Arlington police officer, inherits an internal investigation that appeared to develop earlier this year after Guadalupe County Attorney David Willborn sent the agency a cease and desist letter.
“SPD has identified that this error impacted 1,376 cases from 2007 – 2018 in the counties of Bexar, Comal, and Guadalupe. At this time, SPD has not identified any cases related to open and/or pending criminal cases. However, this review is also being vetted by the respective County Attorneys for validation and accuracy. It has also been confirmed that approximately 40% of the purged evidence had already met the statute of limitations,” said Linda Klepper, director of public affairs for Schertz PD, in a press release sent a day after this story was published.
The Feb. 15 letter accused Schertz PD of asking judges to sign destruction orders for drug evidence and weapons without them being reviewed by prosecuting agencies.
“I have information that over a decade’s worth of evidence has been removed and/or destroyed without prosecutorial review. This practice is dangerous, potentially illegal, and has never been agreed to or authorized by any prosecuting agency within Guadalupe County,” wrote Willborn, who threatened to issue subpoenas to the department if he did not receive a list of evidence that had been removed or destroyed without a proper review.
Willborn also requested a copy of the contract between Schertz PD and an outside consultant that handled the project.
Schertz city officials agreed to make Lowery available for an interview about the issue but have so far attempted to block the release of all requested records related to the hiring of the consulting firm and complaints filed against then-interim Chief Marc Bane.
A source familiar with the internal investigation identified the company in question as Gayla Robison Consulting.
The company’s website states that it specializes in property room management and includes the tagline: “Let me help you get rid of the forgotten MESS.”
The site includes several before and after pictures showing boxes of evidence stacked in a room.
A woman who identified herself as Robison answered the phone Monday, but after a KSAT reporter identified himself, she said “no comment” twice and then hung up.
The Defenders could find no formal business records for the company, and it does come up as a taxable entity on the state’s comptroller website.
Robison’s phone number has a Fort Worth area code.
Three counties taking part in review
Prosecutors from all three counties that partially lie within Schertz city limits now confirm they are taking part in reviews of cases from their respective jurisdictions.
Willborn said this month he knows of non-drug cases in which evidence was destroyed without his approval, and it is his understanding that there are a large number of cases in which drug evidence was commingled.
If so, the chain of custody in those cases has been compromised, and the evidence would no longer be admissible, Willborn pointed out.
A spokesperson for Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales released the following statement:
“The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and the Schertz Police Department are working to identify cases that may have been affected by the agency’s destruction of evidence. To date, we are not aware that any pending cases are impacted. If any closed cases are impacted, we will notify the defendants and work to address those issues.”
A legal assistant for Comal County District Attorney Jennifer Tharp said the office is also reviewing its cases, but that, historically, “we get a very small number of cases from this agency.”
Lowery, who said the department’s internal investigation is ongoing, said no criminal violations have been uncovered so far, and he does not expect any will be found.
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