Audit finds Salisbury Police evidence room thefts

Thousands of criminal cases handled by the Salisbury Police Department over the past 23 years could be in jeopardy following the discovery of suspected thefts from the department’s evidence storage room. 

The Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office is now in the process of notifying parties involved in every criminal case that used evidence stored by Salisbury police from April 22, 1997, through Feb. 7, 2020. 

Attorneys and defendants in current cases have already been notified of the problem, said Carsten Wendlandt, spokesman for the office. People involved with closed cases will be notified later. 

“It’s a daunting task,” Wendlandt said.

It’s unknown exactly how many cases were affected, but it’s likely in the thousands, he said.

The thefts began as far back as when Police Chief Coulbourne Dykes ran the department from 1982 until his death in 1999. The city has had two more chiefs since then, Allan Webster from 1999 to 2009, and current Chief Barbara Duncan who was hired in 2010.

The Police Department discovered the problem in the course of a recent internal audit of its property storage facility which found evidence of a series of potentially egregious breaches of internal policy by a civilian employee, the department said in a news release.

The city decided to undertake the audit for future recertification reviews by an accrediting agency, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. This internal audit was non-compulsory, and was initiated by the department to ensure adherence to best practices for property handling and storage.

Following the discovery of possible thefts, command staff determined that there was cause to believe that the civilian employee may have committed one or more thefts while working in the property storage facility.

Officials are working to gather evidence that would allow that employee — who hasn’t been named — to face charges.

On Feb. 6, the department contacted the Wicomico State’s Attorney’s Office, and informed them of the evidence that a crime — or crimes — may have been committed in the property storage facility. Discussion between the two agencies led to the decision to seek the assistance of the Maryland State Police, who were asked to conduct a criminal investigation. That investigation is currently ongoing, city officials said.

On Feb. 10, the State’s Attorney Office initiated the process of providing disclosures through the courts.

“The community needs to know that when they give you their trust, you’re going to do the right thing when they’re not looking” said Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan. “As a law enforcement agency, integrity is paramount for us, so this situation is disappointing. It’s frustrating. Right now, our focus is on ensuring the secure operation of our property facility, and assisting the MSP and the State’s Attorney’s Office to determine exactly what happened. Moving forward, SPD is committed to taking every possible step to ensure that the trust of our citizens is well-placed.”

The Maryland State Police investigation into this matter is ongoing, and may continue for a considerable time to come, city officials said. The Salisbury Police Department will provide updates as they become available, however the department will not offer any comment on the ongoing state police investigation.

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.