DRACUT — Although the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office has found no indication that the integrity of any evidence within the Dracut Police Department has been compromised, former interim Chief Neil Ouellette pointed out a list of issues he found relative to the agency’s evidence locker, according to a letter sent to DA Marian Ryan.
In the Jan. 3 letter obtained by The Sun this week through a public-records request, Ouellette said he wanted to inform Ryan about several issues he identified since his arrival on July 26, 2016. Ouellette had previously said the agency had antiquated policies, “but for some reason the chain of command or the high levels of the organization weren’t paying attention.”
His letter served as an appraisal of findings from a Sept. 2016 evidence audit conducted by Plymouth-based Pomeroy Resources, Inc. The consultancy conducted an on-site evidence and property review of the Police Department on Sept. 6, 7, 8, 9, and 12 of 2016.
“Sgt. (Gregg) Byam, the department’s Evidence and Property Officer, attended a three-day evidence class sponsored by you,” Ouellette wrote. “It is clear from the audit, that the appropriate steps contained within the training material were never implemented or followed.”
Due to Ouellette no longer being employed by the town of Dracut, he refrained from commenting.
“Based upon all the independent evaluations of the evidence room, it was disturbing,” said Town Manager Jim Duggan on Thursday.
Duggan said that, as soon as he became aware of the level of disorganization within that component of the Police Department, he took immediate action to address it. In recent months the town manager has worked to reorganize the agency’s command structure.
“I removed the previous evidence officer from any further responsibility of further cases going on in there, we changed the locks, we have implemented specific systems and checks and balances on recording evidence and verifying that we do have all the necessary evidence in place,” Duggan said. “It is a more streamlined, thorough, secure process.”
Other issues pointed out by Ouellette in the Jan. 3 letter include:
* A records management system was not used for evidence tracking for several years.
* “There was no master list of property and evidence, within those areas,” Ouellette wrote. Sgt. Byam, Detective Mike Williams, and Detective Will Buote compiled a spreadsheet prior to Ouellette’s arrival, but it did not identify what evidence was contained within the evidence bags. Several articles were missing incident numbers, owner/suspect names, and were only referred to as “brown bag,” “large brown bag.”
* The decades-old evidence/property policy was never followed. No audits and inspections were ever documented. “It should be noted that Lt. (Demetri) Mellonakos, Sgt. Byam and Deputy (David) Chartrand had unfettered access to the Evidence Room, while Deputy Chartrand and Lt. Mellonakos both had access to the Drug Room,” Ouellette wrote. “Sgt. Byam was accompanied by one of them to access the Drug Room. Although the Evidence Room has a video camera, the archiving is only about 30-40 days.”
* The Firearms Room contains hundreds of older firearms in various stages of deterioration and many are not tagged.
* Evidence remained in temporary lockers for months and, in some cases, years prior to being transferred to the evidence room.
Last year, Chartrand and other officers in the Dracut Police Department were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by Dracut Officer Joseph Jakuttis, who accused Dracut police, State Police and DEA officials of retaliating against him after he brought accusations of police corruption and cronyism to light. Jakuttis claimed in the lawsuit that, while working for a joint state-federal drug task force known as the Cross Border Initiative (CBI), he received information from two confidential sources that Mellonakos and Byam were engaged in purchasing and consuming drugs. Town Manager Duggan said he cannot comment on the ongoing lawsuit.
Regarding the future of the officers who reportedly did not follow protocol with the oversight and administration of the agency’s evidence locker, Duggan said he will be addressing that internally.
“It’s a personnel issue,” he said.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.