WILMINGTON, Del. — State investigators reported Wednesday that the number of cases where drug evidence has disappeared or been tampered with at the state drug lab has grown to 21.
Defense attorneys also were notified Wednesday about the specific cases where drug evidence has been compromised. The 21 cases involve arrests between 2010 and 2013, with 19 initiated by Delaware State Police and two by Dover police.
Most, if not all, of the cases appear to have been closed, with some ending in convictions and several dropped before trial.
Jason Miller, a spokesman for state Attorney General Beau Biden, said that the list is just “to date” and that the “criminal investigation, including police agencies’ audits of drug evidence, is ongoing.”
Delaware Public Defender Brendan O’Neill said his staff is reviewing the list from prosecutors.
It was revealed on Friday that drug evidence processed by the Delaware Medical Examiner’s Controlled Substances Laboratory had gone missing or sometimes was replaced with fake substances.
The incident that tipped off authorities was a Jan. 14 drug trial in Kent County where a Delaware State Police trooper opened a sealed evidence envelope that was supposed to contain 64 blue Oxycontin pills but instead contained 13 pink blood pressure pills. The case ended with a plea agreement and the defendant was set free that day.
The state’s drug laboratory was shut down Feb. 20 and the evidence locker was secured by Delaware State Police, who are doing an inventory of all drug evidence that was stored in the lab.
State police Sgt. Paul Shavack said investigators are reviewing thousands of pieces of evidence and so far have only inspected several hundred items.
“They are continuing their check, taking inventory, but it is an enormous amount of evidence to go through and it is tedious and time-consuming work,” he said.
So far, there have been no arrests and no charges filed in the apparent theft of drug evidence.
Shavack said Wednesday that he was unable to estimate when the audit would be completed and said he did not want to discuss any preliminary findings “so as not to compromise the continued investigative efforts.”
Until it was closed last week, the Controlled Substances Lab was used by all law enforcement agencies in Delaware to test drug evidence in criminal cases.
Police agencies across the state also have been asked to review their records to double-check evidence that was sent to the state drug lab for processing.
On Monday, state prosecutors asked the chief judges of the Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas and the Family Court to impose a 60-day hold on all drug trials while the lab investigation was ongoing.
O’Neill opposed such a “blanket” delay and argues that all cases should continue to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Family Court officials have indicated they will not impose an across-the-board delay. But as of Wednesday, neither Superior Court nor Court of Common Pleas had responded to the state’s request.
On Tuesday, at least five drug prosecutions set to go to trial in New Castle County were affected by the ongoing investigation.
Two cases were resolved with plea deals, one of which resulted in the release of a defendant who had been facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Two cases were postponed, with an incarcerated defendant in one case receiving a new, significantly lower bail. In another case involving drugs and a weapon, prosecutors dropped the drug charge and went forward with the trial on the weapons count only.