Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Officer denies wrong-doing in handling evidence in missing woman’s case- Report from The Pine Bluff Commercial Newspaper

This article is from the Pine Bluff Commercial.  It is being posted here for informational purposes.  A link to the original is below the article.

Updated: 5:31 pm - July 31, 2012

By Ray King of the Commercial Staff

Pine Bluff police Lt. Bob Rawlinson said Tuesday he did nothing wrong when he took the evidence from the Cleashindra Hall case home with him until he could properly turn it in the next day.  Rawlinson is appealing a two-day suspension given him by Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones, who accused him of violating department policy with regard to the handling of the evidence in the case.

Testifying before a civilian review panel Tuesday morning, Rawlinson, who supervised the serving of a search warrant at 5309 Faucett Road on March 29, said he didn’t believe he had violated department policy which says “it is an officer’s responsibility to properly handle, mark and package all evidence and transport all physical evidence to the evidence room or other authorized secure location as soon as possible.  ”Rawlinson said another segment of that policy allows officers three days to turn in evidence and “it’s not illegal in the policy to transport or hold evidence in your car.  The first opportunity I had, I turned it in.”

The suspension followed an internal investigation resulting from the discovery that the evidence had sat at the police department for more than a month before it was sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory at Little Rock on May 8.  Crime Scene Technician Cathy Ruhl was suspended for five days by Davis-Jones and Ruhl has reportedly admitted that she became involved in other cases and forgot about the evidence from the Hall case.  The house, owned by Larry Amos, was the last place Hall was seen before she disappeared May 9, 1994.

Rawlinson said during the course of the time officers were serving the warrant and searching the house, there were several hundred people who gathered in front of the house and in the area, and Faucett Road was completely blocked and closed to through traffic because of all the vehicles parked on the street.  He said a crime scene unit vehicle, which would normally be used to transport the evidence, was a long distance down the street while his unmarked police car was parked in the driveway of the house.  After talking to Assistant Chief Ivan Whitfield, Rawlinson said the decision was made to put the four sacks of evidence into the trunk of his car so that an officer or crime scene technician “wouldn’t have to walk down the street and somebody possibly grab the evidence or compromise it.

”Rawlinson said he was one of the last officers to leave the scene, and was unsuccessful when he tried to call Ruhl on the radio so he could meet her and turn over the evidence then.  A phone call to the crime scene technician’s office was also unsuccessful and Sgt. Bobby Vanlandingham, the department’s Evidence Officer “had already gone home,” Rawlinson said.  He also said several small lockers at the police department “wouldn’t hold the evidence,” which consisted of four large grocery type paper bags.  Later in his testimony, Rawlinson said the bags “ had pieces of sheet rock sticking out of them.”  Police have declined to specifically identify the evidence collected but according to a search warrant return completed by Rawlinson, the items were removed from an interior wall inside the house.  Rawlinson said he drove his police car to his house, parked it in the enclosed garage, and locked it until the next morning when he contacted Crime Scene Technician Amanda Hale and turned the evidence over to her on the parking lot of the police department. 

 “I didn’t authorize him putting it in the trunk of his car and Chief Whitfield didn’t authorize him taking it home,” Davis-Jones said.  She said department policy calls for turning in evidence in a secure place, and “that doesn’t mean the trunk of a car.”  “It should have been taken to the crime scene (technician’s) office,” Davis-Jones said, adding that crime scene technicians work 12-hour shifts.  “If he couldn’t reach one at the office, MECA (Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association) can call one,” Davis-Jones said. She said that Rawlinson could have also driven to the crime scene office and waited for a technician to get there. 

Davis-Jones also mentioned a drop box that officers could put evidence in but Rawlinson responded that the box “would hold a gun or some dope” but bags the size of the ones collected at the Amos residence could not be put in that drop box. Rawlinson, who was one of the lead detectives on the case, was reassigned by Davis-Jones on April 4 and is currently assigned as a patrol supervisor on the night shift.  Davis-Jones said the transfer was unrelated to his handling of the Hall case.  “I wanted to stay on the case,” Rawlinson said.   It is a highly interesting case and I believe nobody knows more about this case than me. ”Davis-Jones described the Hall case as a “high profile case and I wouldn’t want a situation where taking home evidence possibly contaminated it.”  She said she was responsible for reopening the case and requested Assistant Chief Kelvin Sargent assign someone to work on it. Davis-Jones said Officer Patrick Saffold, who was formerly a detective and is currently assigned to the Patrol Division, worked on the case before Rawlinson said Detective Jerry Lambert took it over.“  If he is so passionate about the case, he would have made sure the evidence got there (to the crime lab) the next day.  He could have carried it there himself,” Davis-Jones said.

Rawlinson, who previously worked as Public Information Officer for the department under several different chiefs of police, said that working in that role under Davis-Jones, “nothing hit the newspaper until chief Jones approved it.  If she was on vacation, we had to e-mail the release to her and she would e-mail changes back.  It couldn’t be in the paper if she didn’t approve it, and Capt. (Greg) Shapiro (who is now department public information officer) said ‘the evidence wasn’t compromised.'”  Shapiro made that statement in response to a question from The Commercial about Ruhl’s suspension which appeared in a story July 21. The review panel consisted of Capt. Mike Davis from the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department, Inspection and Zoning Director Robert Tucker and Assistant City Attorney Daryl Taylor.  They will have five days to make a decision on the appeal, and can uphold it, reverse it, or modify it.

http://www.pbcommercial.com/sections/news/local/officer-denies-wrong-doing-handling-evidence-missing-woman%E2%80%99s-case.html