Small amounts of drugs and money apparently have been taken from the evidence room at D.C. Superior Court over the last four years, Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I said yesterday.
Three workers assigned to the evidence room have been transferred and sanctions against them are being considered, court officials said.
"Anytime anything is missing from the evidence room it is very serious," Moultrie said. Court officials said the lost evidence included packets of heroin and cocaine, and that an internal audit valued the evidence at less than $5,000.
The audit was ordered about three weeks ago when a prosecutor discovered that about $350 in heroin was missing from the property room at the courthouse, according to court sources. The inquiry revealed "a pattern of relatively minor drug and other evidence pilferage over a period of some four years," Moultrie said.
Moultrie said that a list of the missing items was turned over to the police department yesterday for further investigation and that a review is being undertaken of how sealed evidence, such as drugs, is handled in the courtroom.
"In terms of comparing the loss to drug sales on the street, it is minor," said Larry P. Polansky, executive officer of D.C. Superior Court.
"But this indicates we have a problem both in the handling of drugs in the property room and in the courtroom, and from our standpoint, that is very serious."
Among the items listed missing yesterday were: slightly over an ounce of cocaine, valued at $1,400; a little more than an ounce of heroin, also valued at about $1,400; 12 ounces of marijuana worth $350; and about $150 in cash.
Although the missing property was called a "pattern of . . . pilferage," Polansky noted yesterday that record-keeping errors or unintentional misplacement of the property could explain some of the disappearance.
"Although we are fairly certain someone took the stuff . . . it could be unaccounted for for several reasons," Polansky said.
In addition, Polansky said, the audit highlighted other problems in the handling of evidence, particularly drugs, that could lead to stealing.
Polansky said when a packet of drugs is unsealed in a courtroom, drug enforcement agencies will not resume control of the drugs because once the package is opened there is no way to guarantee without substantial effort that what is returned is still the original drug. Polansky said the court is reviewing the possibility of resealing evidence in the courtroom.