Aurora Police Accidentally Destroys Evidence from 48 Sexual Assault Cases

Last week in Aurora, Colorado, Police Chief Dan Oates announced that evidence from 48 different sexual assault cases was destroyed by mistake. The evidence, all from 2009 cases, had been destroyed during a six-month period beginning in January 2013.

The police department has informed victims whose evidence was destroyed of the “grievous mistake,” and that their cases might no longer be prosecutable. In one case, an arrest was imminent, but without the evidence, the district attorney’s office cannot proceed with prosecution. DNA evidence in a second case had matched to two separate sexual assault cases in Denver before it was destroyed. According to Chief Oates, even if a suspect is ever charged in the Denver cases, it will be difficult to prosecute the Aurora case.

The mistake was discovered when an officer attempted to pick up evidence, only to learn it had been destroyed. Despite a law passed in 2009 that tightened the requirements for the destruction of evidence, officers did not follow protocol in these cases. In 18 cases, the lead detective chose to destroy the evidence without filing the proper paperwork or a follow-up review as required by the law. An officer newly assigned to the evidence room improperly destroyed the evidence from the other 30 cases without the authorization of the lead detective. Initially, the Department focused on sexual assault cases because of how crucial DNA evidence often is in those cases, but they now plan to look at other types of cases in which evidence could have been destroyed.

In reviewing this matter, the Department is seeking help from an expert panel that includes a DNA expert, the state Attorney General’s office and prosecutors from two district attorney’s offices. At a press conference, Chief Oates said:

“We will do all that we should to fix this problem. No one…intended this outcome. It was a mistake.”

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