Flood of evidence in NYPD cases soaked

The forensics disaster includes DNA material from murder investigations to everyday crimes

By Jamie Schram, Jessica Simeone, and Dan Mangan
The New York Post

NEW YORK — Thousands of pieces of evidence in NYPD storage centers were contaminated by toxic Hurricane Sandy floodwaters, jeopardizing criminal prosecutions in an unknown number of cases.

The forensics disaster includes DNA material from murder investigations to everyday crimes - one burglary case in The Bronx is already affected, sources said.

"Significant flooding has taken place - there's no question about it," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said about the two Brooklyn facilities, which hold evidence from crimes committed around the city.

"We're still trying to sort through this and assess the damage. It's a big job."

When asked how it will affect criminal trials, Kelly said, "It depends on the individual cases. There's the potential for that."

Both buildings were located in Zone A sections, meaning they are very likely to flood in the event of a storm surge.

Up to 5,000 55-gallon cardboard drums, known as Biological Evidence Containers, at the NYPD's Erie Basin Auto Pound on Columbia Street in Red Hook were contaminated when the toxic Gowanus Canal flooded during the Oct. 29 storm, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.

That is about half of that facility's total number of drums, which can contain anywhere from one to several pieces of evidence such as bloodstained clothes and bedding, separated by packing material.

Another estimated 1,000 drums were contaminated when the toxic Newtown Creek flooded the Kingsland Avenue warehouse in Greenpoint, according to a document obtained by The Post.

"There's no question of extensive contamination of evidence," said Browne. "How that is going to affect criminal cases going ­forward is still under review."

Browne said cops took precautions to protect the drums by stacking them on pallets to raise them off the floors, and placing sandbags around the facilities. Thousands of cars, motorcycles, and bikes may also be tainted.

The city's five district attorneys, special narcotics prosecutor and Law Department were briefed about the situation in a Nov. 1 conference call.

"My drug clients will be thrilled," said one Brooklyn ­defense lawyer. "I'll start calling Rikers Island now."

Bronx prosecutors yesterday notified lawyer John Sandleitner that blood evidence allegedly left behind by client Peter Austin during several 2009 burglaries was possibly contaminated.

Sandleitner said he already plans on asking the judge to preclude testimony by a DNA expert who is expected to testify that the blood at the crime scenes came from Austin .

"Now everything is suspect," Sandleitner said.

Copyright 2012 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc.

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