Farmington police employee arrested on suspicion of evidence tampering, theft
FARMINGTON — Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe said Friday that one of the department's employees has been arrested on suspicion of taking money and drugs from an evidence room.
On Friday, officials charged the department's full-time evidence technician, Ashley Goodvoyce, with embezzlement, tampering with public records, possession of a controlled substance and fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance.
Goodvoyce is suspected of stealing $3,000 in cash and a significant amount of narcotic prescription medications, Hebbe said. The thefts were revealed on Tuesday after a detective requested that a piece of evidence be located and another evidence technician discovered it was missing. That started the investigation that led to Goodvoyce's arrest, Hebbe said.
Goodvoyce had been an employee of the department for six years and served as an evidence technician for more than a year, Hebbe said. Farmington police spokeswoman Georgette Allen said she was taken into custody without incident Friday afternoon.
The department — in the midst of an audit that will continue into next week — has identified 38 bags of tampered evidence.
The alleged thefts could have far-reaching legal consequences.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said his office will be working with the department to identify which criminal cases could be affected.
"As soon as we have the specifics on that, on what cases are involved or compromised, we will immediately contact the defendant or the attorney representing the defendant," he said.
Hebbe said on Friday that, as far as he was aware, the tampered evidence was not connected to any violent crime cases, and he said about half the cases involved were closed.
O'Brien said the decision to dismiss charges will depend on several factors, including how critical the evidence is to proving the alleged offense and whether the evidence had already been tested.
"It is not as simple as saying that, if evidence has been tampered with in a case, that all charges will be dismissed in the case," he said.
He said it is possible that defense attorneys will argue for dismissal simply because of the possibility of evidence tampering.
He said his office's first priority is identifying cases in which defendant's are currently incarcerated on faulty or missing evidence, and releasing those defendants, if appropriate.
He said that the Farmington Police Department's quick response to the incident should limit the city's exposure to civil lawsuits.
Eleventh Judicial District Court public defender Matthew Cockman could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Attorney Steve Murphy of the Titus and Murphy Law Firm said the alleged thefts will "definitely" be an issue. He said he will be asking for an independent investigation of the incident by the New Mexico Attorney General's Office and New Mexico State Police to ensure officials account for all the evidence.
"We can't let the fox be in charge of the henhouse there," he said.
He said defense attorneys in the county will be going through past and current criminal cases to determine whether the incident had an effect on their clients. Defendants may request that pleas already entered be withdrawn, Murphy said.
"These are always very expensive messes to get involved in," he said. "It is a drain on the judicial system and the resources we have."
Arlon Stoker of the Stoker Law Firm said the incident could push prosecutors into plea bargains or dismissals.
He said Hebbe's forthright disclosure of the incident was an improvement from past department responses.
Hebbe said the 38 bags of compromised evidence discovered as of Friday afternoon were connected to 34 criminal cases.
"We realize that citizen's cases were impacted, and we are taking that deadly serious," he said. "... We are trying as hard as we can to find out if there are people who need their charges dropped."
As of Friday, 1,900 narcotic items had been audited out of 4,200 items currently being held by the department, Hebbe said.
Hebbe said the department audits its evidence three times a year, as required by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The last time the evidence was audited was in April, he said.
He said Goodvoyce told investigators that she stole the drugs for personal use, but he could not rule out the possibility that some of the drugs were sold.
"I don't think she had a connection to any of the cases, because there was a wild array of them," he said, "but whether it was for sale to make money, or personal use? I don't know."
He said that, in light of the incident, he is reviewing the department's policies and procedures on storing evidence.
Possible changes to department policy include installing cameras in areas within the evidence room or requiring evidence technicians to wear body cameras.
Currently, the department audits 25 percent of the items held by the department three times a year. He said he is considering requiring a yearly audit of all items held by the department.
Hebbe said the issue has had a detrimental impact on morale at the department.
"It is my ship, and I feel terrible about it," he said. "I wish I had hit on it faster, it's my job."
O'Brien said it was no doubt a "huge disappointment" for the law enforcement officers that investigated the impacted cases.
"In addition to letting down the public, she let down all the police that made these cases," he said. "It's not fair to the rest of them that do their job."