Police ‘screw up’ leads to accidental DNA evidence destruction in 48 Colorado cases

Greg Campbell | Contributor

As a result of what Aurora, Colo., Police Chief Dan Oates has called a “screw up,” the Aurora Police Department accidentally destroyed DNA evidence in 48 sexual assault cases, including in one in which the evidence had identified a suspect whose arrest had been imminent.

Absent the evidence, the case has been dropped. Oates and prosecutors met with the victim, explained why her case couldn’t go forward and apologized.

Officials are continuing to investigate whether the destruction impacts other cases, but a legal analyst for Denver’s Fox31 said the news could lead to turmoil in the judicial system.

“The prosecution needs this evidence if they’re going to convict people that have done something wrong,” attorney Dan Recht told the station. “And they need this evidence so that wrongfully accused people don’t get convicted.”

Oates said the accidental destruction occurred because of a “system breakdown,” and that the evidence was related cases from 2009.

He said he has halted all further DNA destruction pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

“Obviously, this is not a good day for the department,” Oates said during a news conference Tuesday.

In 18 of the cases, the lead investigator had apparently recommended the evidence be destroyed, but a required review of the recommendation didn’t happen as required, according to an Aurora Police Department press release.

In the other 30 cases, an officer assigned to light duty destroyed evidence in error after not following department procedures.

Oates said a panel of experts — including members of the district attorney’s and attorney general’s offices — will review the situation and make recommendations to prevent future mishaps.

The Aurora Police Department is at the center of two of Colorado’s most talked about cases, the Aurora theater shooting which took place nearly a year ago and the 1993 Chuck E. Cheese’s murder case, in which convicted killer Nathan Dunlap was recently granted an indefinite stay of execution by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The evidence in those cases was not affected.

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