D.A., cops: We didn’t sit on baking soda evidence
Contrary to earlier reports, local authorities say they did not retest the substance found in Brian Palmer’s possession until two days before his release from jail.
The substance, which has since tested negative for all controlled substances by the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, initially field-tested positive for the presence of cocaine and led to the British citizen’s arrest on July 15.
After Palmer told the court on July 19 that the substance was baking soda, it was again field-tested – producing negative results – but not on July 19, as previously reported.
The substance was both retested and sent to CBI on July 29, according to Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills and Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office investigator Joe DiSalvo.
The Times reported Aug. 5 that local authorities had knowledge of the four negative field tests on July 19, based on a statement DiSalvo made that same day – that the substance had already been sent to CBI for definitive testing. The report was also based on a statement Wills made about the handling of the case: “When Mr. Palmer said [the substance] was baking soda, I had [the sheriff’s office] send it to CBI, but before they sent it, I had them do another test.”
DiSalvo said Monday that his July 19 statement, which appeared in the Times the following day, was incorrect.
“Lawson [Wills] did not ask me to retest it; he only asked me to send it to CBI, and if anyone is to blame, I am. I didn’t send it as quickly as I could have with the presidential visit,” DiSalvo said. DiSalvo served as incident commander during President Clinton’s visit to Aspen on July 24.
“But on the 29th [of July], Lawson [Wills] did ask me to retest it before I sent it, which I did,” he said. “We only retested it because Lawson requested it on the 29th.”
Both Wills and DiSalvo said follow-up field tests break with standard procedure.
“To hear somebody clamoring innocence is not unusual, but this guy was so adamant,” DiSalvo said of the reasoning for the retest.
DiSalvo explained in an interview yesterday that it is standard procedure to immediately send suspected controlled-substances obtained during an arrest to CBI. He further explained that since the Columbine High shooting, CBI has had an unusually long backlog of evidence waiting to be processed, and that to process the substance in this case would have taken two to three months. Therefore, coupled with his responsibilities during the presidential visit, DiSalvo said he didn’t feel the need to send it off right away.
But following the four negative-producing retests conducted July 29, not only did DiSalvo sent the substance to CBI that day, he contacted a personal friend at CBI to put a “rush” on processing.
As a result, the substance was returned from CBI Aug. 11, and all charges were dropped against Palmer at the next available court date, Aug. 16.
“If I had sent it to CBI the day of [Palmer’s] arrest, it’s likely that Mr. Palmer would still be sitting in jail because of the backlog at CBI,” DiSalvo said. “Through a fluke, Mr. Palmer was let out of jail earlier … It was a fortunate mistake that happened here.”
Wills’ version of how the case was handled differs slightly from DiSalvo’s.
Wills said in an interview Thursday that he ordered a retest of the substance following Palmer’s first court appearance on July 19.
“That same day I asked if the cocaine had been sent,” he said. “Generally, the sample would have been sent. Before I ever see it, it usually goes to CBI automatically, within a day or so. But I said, since we have not sent it, let’s do a retest of it … which was very unusual procedurally. Normally in every jurisdiction in this state I’m sure, the cocaine would have been tested one time and sent” to CBI.
Wills said the substance was not retested until July 29, primarily because of DiSalvo’s responsibilities during the presidential visit. And with the negative test results returned that day, Wills said he tried to arrange a special hearing with Judge DeVilbiss to grant Palmer a personal recognizance bond. The judge, however, was sick Thursday and Friday of that week, and the earliest date available was Aug. 2 – the day Palmer was released.
“We got it on the court’s docket as soon as possible,” Wills said. “We would have liked it to have been sooner, but we did not sit on the information as you guys have suggested.”
“If we are at fault, it’s because we failed to retest [the substance] as soon as possible,” he added. “But given the circumstances of what was going on at that time, it didn’t get done, and I feel badly about that … But we did not sit on information … We don’t sit on that kind of information; we never have and we won’t in the future.
“It casts a negative aspersion on not only our office, but the sheriff’s office, the police department and the whole court system, and it’s a negative aspersion that we don’t deserve.”
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