MANATEE -- The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office had no choice but to dispose of evidence from 3,600 old cases in 2003 because the boxes and bags stored in a 20-foot by 20-foot evidence room had become “like mush,” Sheriff Brad Steube said Tuesday.
“We did not destroy that evidence,” a bristling Steube said at one point. “It would be ludicrous to think we would do that. What we did is destroy evidence that was already destroyed.”
Steube broke his silence for the first time on the Derrick Williams rape case, which brought to light that a humidifier in a bank vault had leaked, making all the boxes and bags stored inside it so wet over time that items became indistinguishable, including evidence from the Williams case, Steube said.
In a 21-page order released on March 28, Circuit Judge Marc Gilner vacated Williams’ 1993 convictions for sexual battery, kidnapping and related offenses in part because the sheriff’s office had violated Williams’ due process rights in 2003 by destroying evidence from his case.
Steube objects to the judge’s opinion that his office destroyed evidence illegally, without consulting with the state attorney’s office.
“The judge says in his report that our evidence and records manager Jeanne Dixon had a plan for disposal of evidence that included getting an OK from the state attorney’s office,” Steube said. “In actuality, we don’t have to get the state attorney’s permission to destroy evidence because the state statutes tell us how long we have to keep things. So I disagree with what Judge Gilner put in there.”
Steube said the sheriff’s office doesn’t deserve to be cast as an irresponsible party, as some have cast it, due to the damage in the evidence room.
“The judge said we violated a law because we did not go in that room and recover that DNA,” Steube said. “I will say this. There are photographs that show our staff in moon suits going into that room. First of all, there were items stacked and they had all glued together, like mush. We couldn’t even get the case numbers that were written on the boxes. We were able to get items that could be salvaged, like guns and jewelry, things that are hard in nature.
“Here is my disagreement with the judge’s statement,” Steube added. “If you had seen the inside of that vault you would know it does not make sense to send your people in there even with moon suits on. It would have been hazardous to their health. Let’s say that hair was in there. It would have been impossible to find in that big of a mess.”