Pubdate: Fri, 26 Jan 2001
Source: Herald, The (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Daily Herald Co.
Contact:  P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA   98206-0930
Fax: (425) 339-3435
Author: Scott North


A Washington State Patrol chemist could spend up to a year in jail after 
being charged with two gross misdemeanors Thursday for allegedly pilfering 
heroin sent for crime lab tests.

Michael R. Hoover, 51, of Edmonds admitted he had been ingesting heroin for 
several months to ease his back pain, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Ed 
Stemler said in Superior Court papers.

He charged Hoover with tampering with physical evidence and official 

Both offenses carry a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail, said Jim 
Townsend, the county's chief criminal deputy prosecutor.

Hoover's alleged misconduct is affecting drug cases in seven Western 
Washington counties, and up to 200 dismissals are expected in Snohomish 
County alone, Townsend said.

Felony charges were considered but rejected because Hoover was not caught 
with drugs, only filmed on videotape pilfering them at the crime lab, 
officials said.

"With the evidence available, we've charged the counts we could prove," 
Townsend said. "Certainly, with the damage that's been done (to other 
cases), if we could have proven a felony we'd have charged it."

Co-workers at the state crime lab in Marysville asked for the investigation 
after they became concerned about Hoover's insistence on handling heroin 
cases. Patrol detectives installed a hidden camera near his work area and 
allegedly documented him repeatedly stealing heroin from evidence that had 
been sent to the crime lab for tests.

When confronted with the tapes Dec. 22, Hoover allegedly told detectives 
that he hadn't intended to begin using heroin, but accidentally sniffed 
concentrated, crystalline dust left over from an evidence test. He said 
there was immediate relief from his back pain, and he regularly began 
sniffing small amounts of heroin that he'd purified in the laboratory, 
documents show.

Hoover worked for the patrol for 11 years as a forensic scientist. He was 
placed on paid administrative leave in late December.

The crime lab is used to process evidence from Snohomish, Island, Skagit, 
Whatcom, Jefferson and Clallam counties.

Dismissal notices are being filed almost daily in Snohomish County as a 
result of questions being raised about the evidence Hoover handled and 
prosecutors relied on to file charges.

But documents also show that some local defendants are opting not to have 
their charges dismissed. Those defendants are all involved in the county's 
drug court, a volunteer program that provides defendants with a strict, 
court-supervised alternative to prison, focusing on treatment.

That shows the drug court is working, because defendants are being given 
the choice of getting help for the abuse problems or having their legal 
troubles dismissed, Townsend said.

"They are being told they can get out (of drug court), but if they are out, 
they can never get back in," he said.
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