Pubdate: Mon, 30 Sep 2002
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2002 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: Sheila K. Stogsdill, The Oklahoman
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Environmental Issues)


MIAMI, OK -- With meth labs booming in Oklahoma, so is the issue of 
handling evidence from them. It is becoming especially divisive in Ottawa 
County, where a judge was asked recently to suppress evidence of a lab 
because investigators took photos of it, then destroyed it.

Children Exposed To Chemicals

The issue isn't going away soon, not with 22 methamphetamine lab cases set 
for the October felony trial docket.

The drug is a growing problem, hitting all areas of rural and urban 
Oklahoma. Meth lab seizures have increased steadily, with last year's 1,193 
seizures making Oklahoma No. 3 in the nation.

In Comanche County, certified deputies process meth labs, photos are taken 
of the evidence and samples are sent to the Oklahoma State Bureau of 
Investigation for analysis, said Ray Pyeatt, narcotics investigator. He 
said defense attorneys have tried to argue that evidence was destroyed.

"With methamphetamine the No. 1 problem in our area, we don't have enough 
storage room or the proper containers to hold the evidence," Pyeatt said. 
"You really don't want to bring all that hazardous material into the 

The issue recently took center stage in Ottawa County when attorneys for a 
suspected meth maker filed a motion to suppress photographic evidence in a 
case before Associate District Judge Bill Culver.

Scott Graham, a sheriff's deputy and member of the Ottawa County drug unit, 
testified in a preliminary hearing that he took photographs of the 
methamphetamine materials, then destroyed the lab.

The motion to suppress evidence prompted Sheriff Dennis King to fire off a 
letter to associate district judges Robert Haney and Culver saying he would 
not store materials seized from methamphetamine labs in his department.

Ottawa County detective Mike Eason said the evidence room couldn't safely 
hold meth materials.

"If one of the containers had a leak and exploded, a four-block radius 
around the courthouse would go up in smoke and flames," Eason said.

Culver declined to comment on the case, except to say he overruled the 
motion to suppress and would accept photographs of methamphetamine material 
as evidence.

Haney said the law can be interpreted various ways.

"One part of the statute says the best evidence must be maintained, and 
another part of the law says hazardous materials must be destroyed," Haney 
said. "It wouldn't be a problem if the materials were stored in a sealed 

The sheriff said methamphetamine labs are toxic and flammable and cannot be 
put in sealed containers.

Last year, the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department confiscated 50 
methamphetamine labs.

The sheriff said he called the state Environmental Quality Department, the 
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Environmental Protection 
Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Agency about storing the 
hazardous materials.

"I was told by all the agencies I could not store the materials at the 
sheriff's department, and if I did, I would be slapped with a fine," King said.

He said he was told the materials could be stored in an off-site building. 
But insurance costs and city and county regulations make that impossible.

"I have spoken to the county commissioners, and there is no feasible way to 
store the materials," King said. "We cannot ask taxpayers to assume a 
$500,000 to $1 million bill to build a storage unit to hold methamphetamine 

King is expected to address the issue at the county commissioners' meeting 

Eason said that after a drug bust, authorities photograph the lab, take 
samples from the different chemicals, photograph the samples with a special 
evidence identification number and send the samples to the OSBI lab for 

During a preliminary hearing or trial, the photograph and the lab results 
are entered as evidence, Eason said. He added that not every sample is sent 
to the OSBI lab.

"Sometimes a result from a field test is used in a preliminary hearing," 
Eason said. "If a defendant pleads guilty, the sample is destroyed."

Samples waiting to be sent to the lab are stored in the evidence room, 
Eason said.

In Mayes County, 42 labs were confiscated in 2001, and 53 labs have been 
confiscated this year.

"Methamphetamine combined with burglary is our biggest problem," Mayes 
County Sheriff Frank Cantey said.

Cantey said deputies collect the unfinished materials as evidence, store 
them in five-gallon plastic containers and send to the OSBI lab for testing.

"As far as I know, we don't destroy anything until after a case is disposed 
of," Cantey said.

Cantey added that the finished product is put into a sample kit and sent to 
the OSBI, but the remainder is stored in containers in the evidence vault.

"The finished product is not hazardous and will not explode as long as it 
isn't near an open flame," Cantey said. "The materials start to explode 
when you mix the products."

Trent Baggett, associate executive coordinator for the Oklahoma District 
Attorney's Council, said that beginning Nov. 1, House Bill 2303 will allow 
law enforcement agencies to destroy materials.

Materials exceeding 10 pounds seized in a single incident are to be 
photographed with identifying case numbers and accompanied by a descriptive 
report. Agencies are required to keep one pound of the substance seized for 
every 10 pounds, and the sample taken must be large enough for the 
defendant to have an independent test, Baggett said.

"While there are rules of evidence to be concerned with, you may have a 
difference in interpreting the law," Baggett said. "No one is wrong -- just 

Kym Koch, OSBI spokeswoman, said when the agency is called in to handle a 
methamphetamine bust, they take representative samples, photograph the 
materials and later destroy them.
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