By Chris Francescani
NEW YORK, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Thousands of pieces of criminal
evidence were damaged when Hurricane Sandy flooded two New York
Police Department facilities in low-lying areas of the boroughs
of Brooklyn and Queens, a spokesman for the department said.
As many as 10,000 barrels of evidence may have been damaged,
but it remains unclear how many pending cases - ranging from
murder cases to burglary prosecutions - will be compromised,
said NYPD chief spokesman Paul Browne.
Much of the damaged evidence was stored in 55-gallon drums
at a Brooklyn auto pound in Red Hook and a Greenpoint, Queens,
warehouse. Some of the evidence concerns pending prosecutions,
while some remain stored following convictions.
The containers can hold a single piece of evidence, like a
comforter with blood stains on it, or multiple pieces of
individually wrapped evidence, like a wool cap or a T-shirt
containing blood splatters, Browne said.
DNA evidence is typically extracted from a piece of evidence
by the medical examiner's office, where it remains stored until
trial. But the item of clothing itself is stored in the
containers at facilities and warehouses around the city.
Police had preemptively elevated thousands of the drums onto
shelves 5-1/2 feet off the ground, and stacked sandbags inside
and outside the two facilities, but floodwaters broke through
anyway. The Brooklyn facility took on three feet of flood water,
according to Browne.
Also among evidence damaged by salt water were about 4,000
bicycles, 960 cars and 760 motorcycles, Browne said.
"Say it's a car that was involved in a homicide and there
are bullet holes in the car door," Browne explained.
"That car is photographed inside and out at the crime scene,
and then if the defense wants photographs, they'll go to the
pound and take photographs as well. The car itself is evidence,
but it's the photographs that are typically used at trial."
At least one case in the Bronx borough is in jeopardy
following the flood damage to the evidence.
Bronx prosecutors contacted defense attorney John
Sandleitner to inform him that blood evidence in a 2009 burglary
case against his client Peter Austin was possibly contaminated,
according to Steven Reed, a spokesman for Bronx District
Attorney Robert Johnson.
Sandleitner was not immediately available to comment.
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