Audit: Harris County Precinct 6 evidence room in disorder for years

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Auditors initially found firearms and cash missing. Much of it was found but an expert says court cases might be compromised (KTRK)

An audit conducted just after long-time constable Victor Trevino was pried from office as part of a guilty plea found that Precinct 6's evidence room was little more than a closet jammed to the ceiling with guns, drugs, cash and jewelry -- all largely disorganized and in disarray, records obtained by Ted Oberg Investigates found.

As many as 47 firearms and $54,000 in cash were initially reported as missing from the East End evidence room, according to a May 8 audit. In addition, hundreds of other items, including guns, were in the room, but not recorded as being there, the audit showed.

"It was one of the first things that pancaked me in the face when I walked in," said Constable Heliodoro "Henry" Martinez, who was appointed in November to replace Trevino by the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Auditors working with the sheriff's office and Martinez's team said they located almost all of the missing property, but it took awhile.

"A lot of the items that were here had no business being here," Martinez said. "There was no logic to the way it was sorted."

Read the audit here.

Trevino, who led Precinct 6 law office for more than two decades, pleaded guilty to felony financial misconduct and a judge sentenced him to 10 years of probation.

Trevino resigned immediately, pledging never to be a law enforcement officer again.

Auditors began sifting through the evidence room November 3.

Trevino's tainted legacy may continue for some time. Because evidence is key in criminal cases, guns, narcotics or stolen items are the physical proof that can mean the difference between a criminal getting jail time or walking away free.

"It has the potential to compromise a major criminal case," said Larry Karson, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown. "The stuff was missing. It was missing from where it was supposed to be. So accountability had been lost of it. It's critical."

The audit raises that prospect.

"As unrecorded seized property collected by deputies represents evidentiary items, the inability to locate such property could potentially impact pending court proceedings," the audit reads in part.

Martinez said he's hopeful the chaotically disorganized property room will not impact any criminal cases.

"Luckily, so far, none of the criminal cases have been affected," he said.

Indeed, he says much of the Precinct 6 evidence room was packed with items that should have been disposed of years ago, with some property in the room dating back to 1986.

But Karson says with an evidence room in that condition, it's likely a defense attorney or two will have a field day.

"If it's evidence for courtroom, there's no chain of custody, because you don't know where it's at," he said. "You don't know who's had access to the evidence."

Martinez has reorganized the property room and has implemented a new system. He has turned over the precinct's property room duties to the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

Karson says that's a good step, but having but Trevino's evidence room mess raises a potentially larger issue.

Evidence rooms get audited only when constables leave office and a new one comes in, according to the county auditor's officer.

That means, in Harris County, these audits don't happen often.

"If you're only auditing when somebody gets voted out of office or is convicted of a crime you're going to have problems snowball for years," Karson said.

County officials said there are no plans to start more frequent audits.
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Ted Oberg Investigatesharris county sheriffs officeHouston
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