The alleged thefts prompted three separate audits of the Bothell Police Department’s evidence room, including one by the state Auditor’s Office that found “discrepancies” in how evidence was logged and stored.
King County prosecutors Wednesday charged a former Bothell Police Department evidence technician with first-degree theft for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from a police evidence room.
The alleged thefts prompted three separate audits of the department’s evidence room, including one by the state Auditor’s Office that found “discrepancies” in how evidence was logged and stored.
According to a probable-cause statement outlining the case, Bothell police learned of the missing money when the civilian technician, William Lee Kenney, called in sick during a regularly scheduled audit of the evidence room in January 2015.
“Upon opening the safe in the evidence room they (Bothell police) discovered it was empty,” according to the court documents.
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Bothell police then asked the Washington State Patrol to audit the evidence room. State troopers found about $51,500 missing, according to the documents.
Bothell police Capt. Denise Nielsen said Kenney was immediately placed on leave. He was fired a month later in February 2015.
Kenney told detectives he had taken cash from the evidence room eight to 10 times, the statement said. He said he was going through a divorce and had financial problems, it said.
He said he intended to replace the cash, but the situation “snowballed” and he was in over his head, the statement alleges.
“Kenney indicated he felt safe because he had the key and no one else was coming in to the evidence area,” the charging papers said.
He told detectives he used the stolen money to buy groceries and at a casino, according to the statement.
But a subsequent audit of the evidence room by the Auditor’s Office revealed more cash was missing.
“We expanded on the State Patrol’s investigation and found an additional $32,643 in cash that could not be located. We also noted discrepancies of other high-risk evidence,” the Auditor’s Office report said.
The Auditor’s Office then tried to locate property listed as evidence by searching for 10 pieces of jewelry. Two pieces turned up missing and an item listed as a 14-carat yellow gold and diamond ring was actually a compact disc, according to the report.
Of 25 narcotics items, nine could not be located because there wasn’t enough information entered into the records-management system and seven were found in an unexpected location, the audit revealed.
“Internal controls at the City were not adequate to safeguard evidence maintained in the Police Department evidence room,” the state auditor wrote. The report noted receiving, packaging and storage procedures were unorganized and inconsistent.
Kenney knew when audits were scheduled and was able to modify and delete evidence from the records-management system without oversight, the Auditor’s Office found.
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said prosecutors reviewed evidence from the State Patrol and Auditor’s Office audits but focused on the missing cash documented by the State Patrol.
“All of the information from both investigations was considered, but we filed the charges on the strongest evidence we have. We feel we can prove these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Kenney was a civilian employed by the Bothell Police Department and in 2000 was named the department’s Employee of the Year.
Nielsen said Kenney had received “rave reviews” for his work in the evidence room.
“We had a huge amount of trust in the employee,” she said. “This was an employee who had been with us 24 years. There had never been any previous disciplinary actions with this employee … the evidence room had seen all good audits in the past.”
In an email, Kenney told The Seattle Times he wanted to “remain silent” until he had retained an attorney.
Nielsen said the department has made changes to prevent problems in the future, including modifying the storage, processing and packaging of evidence.
The department also updated to a bar code tracking system and installed security cameras in the evidence room, which is now subject to unscheduled audits, she said.
It now conducts full inventories of all evidence.
“I can’t say that, as a department, we can absolutely prevent something like this happening again,” Nielsen said. “We do our best hiring people and having systems in place to do our checks to try to keep things like this from happening.”
Nielsen said it took months to reorganize the evidence room.
Both Nielsen and Donohoe said the missing evidence was not expected to compromise prosecutions or police investigations.
“We don’t anticipate having issues with other cases,” Donohoe said.
Nielsen said much of the missing money had been seized during police investigations.
“A lot of the cash was related to seizures. They weren’t part of any ongoing criminal case separate from that or they’d already been adjudicated,” she said.