Pawhuska police told city councilors last week they have inherited and are trying to clean up a very messy evidence storage situation, particularly at the former National Guard armory that is the department’s off-site storage facility.
Sergeant Margina Solomon told councilors that the messy evidence storage situation included sexual assault kits, some of which had apparently not been sent off to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for testing. Both in her remarks to the council and in a follow-up interview with the Journal-Capital, Sgt. Solomon clarified that the problem of untested sexual assault kits is hardly unique to Pawhuska.
“This is an ongoing issue within the state of Oklahoma,” Solomon told the newspaper, noting that the OSBI has untested kits and was, itself, a prime location in the evidentiary chain where a breakdown took place. Solomon said she was not drawing any immediate conclusions about why the Pawhuska Police Department had several untested kits in storage. Rather, she explained that she was engaged in research to try and determine the reason or reasons.
“There may be a reason,” she told the Journal-Capital.
Solomon, who has been with the Pawhuska Police Department a matter of months, told city councilors she found storage and chain-of-custody problems in the department’s evidence storage operations. She said that she had been “appalled” by the situation at the old guard armory. She mentioned mold and mildew and said she would be unable to attest to the reliability of materials in that facility.
“This is something we are working on,” Solomon told city councilors. “Evidence is very important. You don’t have a case if you don’t have paperwork.”
Solomon and Police Chief Nick Silva said that the evidence storage problem included items that had not been returned to their owners. They mentioned a motorcycle that was lingering in storage. The department has been able to find the son of the owner of the motorcycle in Delaware.
“This is just an example of what we shouldn’t be doing,” Solomon told city councilors regarding the details of her presentation. Councilors were told that climate control and camera surveillance are needed for the old armory.
In a follow-up interview with the Journal-Capital, Silva said the police department thought it was important to alert the public to the fact that a problematic situation had been building up in regard to evidence storage.
“We wanted to come out and tell the public, ‘Hey, there is a problem,’” he said. Neither Silva nor Solomon pointed a finger at any former officers or officials of the Pawhuska Police Department or the city of Pawhuska, but Silva said he didn’t want the evidence storage problem to continue; he didn’t want to become enmeshed in the problem and a part of it.
Silva said he and others had considered the issues of negligence and dereliction of duty, but he did not think the Pawhuska Police Department was yet at the point of asking for an outside investigation.
“There’s definitely a concern for negligence or dereliction of duty,” Silva said. “Those are definitely, obviously present in our mindset.”
Solomon said she is still seeking answers regarding some items of evidence, and is checking and double-checking details.
“We can’t fix what happened in the past,” she told the Journal-Capital, adding that it’s the present and future of the department and its operations that she’s thinking about.
Solomon told city councilors that the Pawhuska Police Department is in touch with the OSBI about the sexual-assault kits.