Not everything was as it seemed.
The drug buyers were undercover officers. The dealer who allegedly tried to rob them was using a fake gun. And the crime scene, according to Sheriff Mike Williams, was altered by none other than the detectives themselves.
The latter resulted in the arrest of three officers Feb. 16. According to Williams, the Feb. 6 incident began as a low-level drug buy. Officers Kyle Kvies, Lance Griffis and Brian Turner were attempting to buy $40 worth of cocaine from 22-year-old Jerome Allen.
Not knowing they were officers, police said Allen attempted to rob the three, and pulled what turned out to be a fake gun. Turner, a nine-year veteran, fired seven times, striking Allen twice and killing him.
The shooting was captured on a recording made by the officers. So too, according to the officers’ arrest warrants, was a discussion about getting rid of their beers.
“Immediately after the shooting, the officers removed alcoholic beverages from the car,” Williams said at a press conference announcing their arrests. “Let me be clear: That car is a crime scene, those alcoholic beverages were part of the crime scene, and their removal is against the law.”
Officers are allowed to use alcohol as a prop while working undercover. They are even allowed to consume alcohol as long as it’s “kept to a minimum,” according to Narcotics Unit policy.
But throwing away the beer, and the felony evidence tampering charges that resulted, could affect dozens of unrelated cases — and even force the State Attorney’s Office to drop some prosecutions.
“This [the] officers’ own employer has made a determination that at a crime scene, these officers tampered with evidence, compromised the integrity of a crime scene,” said former Assistant Public Defender James Boyle. “Therefore, their testimony cannot truly be believed.”
Boyle, now in private practice, said that’s the case he’d make defending a client in a case in which one of the three detectives was a witness. Boyle says the credibility of an officer is paramount in low-level drug busts, simply because the officer is often the only witness to the crime.
Prosecutors are required to disclose any potentially exculpatory evidence for a defendant. According to a spokesperson, State Attorney Melissa Nelson has begun reviewing all cases, and “will be notifying defense counsel in each case in which the officers are listed witnesses.” He added, “we are still evaluating how many could be impacted.”
Public Defender Charles Cofer said his office is also reviewing its files to see how many cases are affected. Observers on both sides estimate the officers are witnesses in dozens of pending cases.
The officers weren’t alcohol tested, Williams said, because officials didn’t learn about the presence of beer until the following day. But he said the question of whether they were drinking on duty is “clearly a possibility.”
However, police union president Steve Zona noted no suggestions were made that the officers were impaired, or that the shooting was unjustified. “Not a single person that had contact with those detectives that night said that they smelled of alcoholic beverages, or saw any sign of impairment,” Zona noted. “And that would have come out with all the people they spoke to. That didn’t happen.”
Regardless of why the officers allegedly decided to hide the beer, Boyle said, the tampering allegations have a ripple effect throughout law enforcement.
“It does go to the credibility of the witnesses and the integrity of the investigative process as a whole.”