Evidence storage operates with strict security

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2011

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — For Lt. Chad Moose, there’s nothing more important than properly maintained evidence.
It’s the difference between prison or freedom for suspects in criminal cases. It’s also the difference between him keeping or losing his job.
Moose is the supervisor of three evidence custodians at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s stressful,” Moose said. “There are any number of ways to get fired. If you lose something or destroy something that you’re not supposed to.”
Moose took over the criminal investigations department in 2006. Before moving into evidence, he worked in the Sheriff’s Office drug unit.
According to Moose, the Sheriff’s Office has several evidence areas and even an off-site location for larger evidence.
“We have homemade motorcycles, boxes of stuff from murders in the ’60s, guns with loaded ammo in them that have become hazardous because they’ve rusted and you can’t get the ammo out,” Moose said. “We’ve had to become masters of all trades, I guess.”
Detective Ron Meismer, who joined Moose in 2006 as one of the three evidence custodians, said his most memorable experience in the evidence room was after a 2006 murder.
“I hadn’t been here long, maybe a month,” Meismer said. “We were revamping the evidence room. It was a little rough.”
According to Meismer, the murder had occurred in Rowan County before the body was moved to Montgomery County. The body was then left under an abandoned house in the summer for nearly a month.
Meismer said the body had been wrapped in a bedsheet and comforter since the time of death and that the smell was unbearable.
“You can still smell it,” he said.
Evidence that comes in with any moisture — like blood-stained clothes or marijuana — has to be dried immediately or mold will grow, Meismer said, ruining the evidence and creating a health hazard for the custodians.
Moose said he’s worked to improve the evidence facility and also have custodians go through special training.
Moose said the department didn’t have a drying chamber — which heats an air stream, speeding up the drying process — after the 2006 murder and were forced to come up with an alternative method.
“We … just strung up the evidence,” Moose said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Unlike some evidence rooms, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has no civilians handling evidence. Each of the three officers with access to the evidence room have different passcodes for entry. According to Meismer, no one is allowed in the evidence rooms, even Sheriff Kevin Auten.
Moose said Meismer, along with everyone else in the criminal investigation department, is required to take specialized training classes to help understand how evidence fits into the broader criminal process.
“Everyone here has or will take classes on blood splatter interpretation, shooting reconstruction and death investigation classes,” Moose said.
The evidence, Meismer said, is carefully collected and placed into lockable containers. According to Meismer, only the evidence custodians have the tools to open a locked evidence container.
“Once they collect it, they scan it and lock it in,” Meismer said. “It can’t be opened unless it’s in the evidence room.”
Meismer said evidence ordered to be destroyed is taken to Charlotte, placed in 55-gallon barrels and dropped into a heated vat.
The metal melts and is used by the Charlotte company to create rebar.
Moose said handling evidence is a constant battle because of space limitations.
According to Moose, evidence is kept until a defendant is freed or a judge orders it destroyed. In capital cases, evidence is kept until the defendant dies.