Friday, September 15, 2006

Unsealed DV File Leads Reporters to Cop's Misconduct

The Seattle Times, as part of its investigative series Your Courts, Their Secrets, found that the Snohomish County Superior Court had sealed over 400 domestic violence cases in their entirety. Cop's "incomprehensible" conduct in murder mystery comes to light, Seattle Times, Sept. 13, 2006.

One of the files involved a police officer named John Padilla. When his wife was divorcing him, she found in a box in their bedroom closet an envelope with DNA evidence from a murder investigation years before. The envelope had been sent from a lab to the sheriff's office. Needless to say, a bedroom closet is not the standard place to keep sensitive evidence. The wife called Internal Affairs in the sheriff's department, which investigated. And, it turns out, he was also investigated for other violations of procedure, such as checking out crime-scene videotapes that he never returned and failing to book another tape into evidence. The murder is now a cold case, but if a suspect is found, there will be big "chain of custody" problems with the evidence.

The Times reporters followed this lead to learn of other investigations of Padilla and his being fired for incompetence. He is now employed as a prison guard -- the Dept of Corrections did not learn of his sloppy (or worse) performance when it checked his criminal record and contacted his references. (It did know about the domestic violence allegations but "viewed that as a personal, off-duty issue." Shouldn't we worry about a prison guard whose anger leads him to assault people he loves?)

Here's a twist: the Everett Herald ran a six-part series about the murder investigation. "The series depicted Padilla as a skilled investigator, 'stalking the truth,' applying hunting skills learned from youth, locking suspects with his 'pale blue eyes' to elicit confessions." If we doubt that an individual officer's incompetence should be splashed across the newspaper, doesn't it make a difference when the officer has already been in the paper as an ace detective in the same case?

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