Evidence loss dismays relatives

May 5, 2006
The father of a missing boy says he’s being shut out by Colorado Springs police about whether the case is affected by the recent disclosure that evidence has been destroyed.
Police Chief Luis Velez revealed last week that 11,395 pieces of evidence were accidentally destroyed in 4,103 criminal cases during the past 10 years. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Gil Abeyta, whose infant son, Christopher, disappeared from his crib in the family home July 15, 1986. “That’s our life, our history. That’s all we’ve lived for. We can’t start all over.” Abeyta said he got an unofficial call from a source inside the department tipping him off that evidence in Christopher’s disappearance is part of what has been lost. Police spokesman Lt. Rafael Cintron declined to comment on Abeyta’s claim. “It would be irresponsible to comment before the internal investigation is complete,” Cintron said Thursday. Police officials Thursday again refused to release a list of the 4,103 cases involved, saying it would compromise the internal investigation. A list of affected cases was sent to the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office last week. District Attorney John Newsome has said it is up to police to release the list. Employees who work in the department’s evidence section destroyed the evidence after improperly following a policy on evidence disposal. Velez said last week investigators have no information that laws were broken, only that policy was not followed. He also said no homicide cases were affected. Harley Ferguson, the son of J.D. Ferguson, isn’t convinced — his father has been missing for almost five years, and there’s a possibility he’s dead. J.D. Ferguson, 83, disappeared Nov. 5, 2001, from his Broadmoor-area home. Police have said the disappearance was suspicious, and evidence indicated a crime had been committed. “I believe that may be true,” Harley Ferguson said of the possibility that evidence in his father’s case was destroyed. “The whole thing has been handled ineffectively and sloppily. If they lost it, that would just be consistent with what’s been happening.” He said that after police searched his father’s house and collected evidence, they released the house to him and said it was OK to clean it. Police returned two times to try to find fingerprints after the house had been cleaned, he said. Asked whether he called police to ask about possible destroyed evidence in his father’s case, Ferguson said he hadn’t bothered. Investigators have been “insensitive” since the beginning, and he didn’t think they would be honest about the evidence now, he said. He said no one from the department has contacted him. The lead investigator in the case said he could not comment. Abeyta said he has asked, but has been told nothing. “I called them, but they never called me back,” he said. “They’ve put a gag order on everyone. I’m just hoping it’s not true.” Abeyta said they had Christopher’s DNA in evidence, as well as tips on possible sightings. Carrie Thompson, head of the local Public Defender’s Office, said the list is made up of Police Department investigation numbers, rather than court case numbers. After court case numbers are matched to those cases, public defenders will begin sorting out whether their clients’ cases are affected. “We’ve not received it yet, but we should have it in short order,” Thompson said of the list. Also this week, City Auditor Jeff Litchfield said Mayor Lionel Rivera directed his office to conduct an investigation, independent of the one being conducted by the Police Department. “We’re like a watchdog and keep track of whether policy and procedures are being followed,” Litchfield said. “We want to see if the procedures are not good enough to prevent this from happening again.” The city auditor is appointed by the City Council, and reports directly to the council. That report could be complete in two weeks, he said. “This is very serious,” Litchfield said. “Lives have been affected.” “All I want,” Abeyta said, “is the courtesy of a phone call. Don’t keep me in misery here.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0110 or dennis.huspeni@gazette.com
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