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Delaware prosecutors drop drug cases in wake of drug lab investigation

By Mary Kay Mallonee, CNN
updated 8:17 PM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Delaware prosecutors are dropping drug cases amid a drug-lab investigation
  • State police, attorney general shut the lab after evidence went missing, was altered
  • Local and state law enforcement are auditing more than 20,000 evidence bags

Wilmington, Delaware (CNN) -- Prosecutors across Delaware are dropping charges in scores of drug cases -- and thousands of others remain in limbo -- as an investigation continues into missing evidence at the chief medical examiner's drug lab.

Delaware Public Defender Brendan O'Neill told CNN that prosecutors are throwing in the towel on one drug case after another.

"It seems the state is willing to settle on very favorable terms for the defendant or drop the case altogether," he said.

In February, Delaware State Police announced a joint investigation with the Delaware attorney general's office after drug evidence at the state's controlled-substances lab had gone missing, been tampered with or been substituted. At the time, there were 3,700 pending drug cases, 500 of which were felony cases.

"Access to the drug evidence locker was not restricted to, or monitored by, a single individual and could be accessed by any OCME employee with a passkey and a passcode," Deputy Attorney General Caroline Cleary wrote in a letter, dated April 16, to O'Neill's office. Cleary continued, "The door to the locker was left open at times."

O'Neill said, "The drug lab failed in its most basic security protocols and undermined the reliability of any evidence it maintains."

Every state and local police agency has been working to complete internal audits of a total of more than 20,000 evidence bags.

The drug lab has remained closed, and the state is sending drug evidence to a private lab in Pennsylvania to be analyzed.

No one has been arrested in the investigation of the drug lab.

The chief medical examiner, Dr. Richard Callery, who makes $198,500 a year, was suspended with pay in late February on another matter involving his alleged moonlighting job performing autopsies for the state of Rhode Island.

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