Dax Melmer/Postmedia NewsWindsor Police Chief Al Frederick
Nine ounces of cocaine worth $25,000 disappeared from the drug vault at Windsor police headquarters and no one can say for certain what happened to it.
The revelation came during a drug trial that concluded earlier this month in Superior Court. In a written decision obtained Wednesday by the Windsor Star, the judge in the case found the accused drug dealer guilty nonetheless, but said the fact police lost track of nine ounces of cocaine “troublesome indeed.”
“The Windsor Police Service allowed $25,000 worth of cocaine to go missing. How did that happen?” said Justice Pamela Hebner. “The only explanation they were able to offer is they assume the substance was destroyed on a day when other such exhibits, no longer needed, were also destroyed.”
Criminal defence lawyer Ken Marley had argued that the missing drugs, and the manner in which he learned of their disappearance, should have triggered an acquittal in the case against his client. Also at issue, he said, is police accountability.
“I find it suspicious that nine ounces of cocaine would go missing,” Marley said.
“I find the circumstances suspicious but I have no idea what really happened.”
Marley’s client, Miles Patrick Meraw, 30, was convicted of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. He was picked up as part of a sting operation that centred on a local drug dealer named Michael Stiller.
Police had Stiller’s cellphone tapped and had a bug in his car. Officers were listening on Aug. 21, 2013 as Meraw made arrangements to buy a “nine pack” from Stiller. They then watched the transaction take place in the east-end Walmart parking lot and followed Meraw as he drove away in his Pontiac Sunfire. They arrested him on Jefferson Boulevard, finding the nine ounces of cocaine in a shopping bag that also contained a banana, a yogurt and two boiled eggs.
Court heard an officer took the drugs to police headquarters where he weighed them, took photos of them and took a small sample to send to Health Canada for testing that determined it was indeed cocaine. He then turned the drugs over to the officer in charge of the drug vault.
When the officer went to the vault a year later to retrieve the cocaine in preparation for a September 2014 preliminary hearing in the case, it was gone, court heard.
In an interview Wednesday, police Chief Al Frederick said he believes the drugs were “found to be missing” much sooner. He said the disappearance was discovered during a routine audit of the drug vault in Oct. 30, 2013.
“Sept. 11 was a scheduled purge,” he said, explaining that drugs no longer needed for court proceedings would have been removed from the vault at that time and destroyed.
“I have full confidence that this was inadvertently destroyed,” Frederick said.
Frederick bristled at the suggestion that one of his officers would have stolen the drugs. No one would be foolish enough to take drugs needed for trial because their disappearance would be noticed, Frederick said.
He said no one but a single constable and a staff sergeant have access to the vault to remove drugs for destruction. “I trust my officers,” Frederick said.
Missing drugs “doesn’t happen very frequently.”
Later, he called this instance “a one-off.”
But John Sewell, co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, said one instance of drugs disappearing is too many.
“This is very serious when police are not able to control evidence that they have,” Sewell said.
“Suppose a bank has $25 million sitting there and it disappears and they say, “Oh, well, we’re not sure what happened to it.’… That’s not a good enough answer.”
Frederick admitted he doesn’t know the inner workings of the drug vault. He said he thinks audits are conducted on an annual basis, but said he isn’t sure. He said he has no idea how many items are contained in the vault, but believes they would number in the hundreds. He couldn’t even comment on the physical size of the vault.
“I’ve never been it in.”
Sewell, a former Toronto mayor turned activist, suggested Windsor needs someone independent of the police department to conduct its drug audits.
“Maybe they should bring in an outside investigator.”