Baltimore County Police have arrested and charged a BCoPD civilian employee with stealing drugs and money from the BCoPD evidence room at the Public Safety Building in Towson.
Nicholas Michael Ishmael, 20, of the 7900 block of Westmoreland Avenue, 21234, was arrested yesterday at BCoPD headquarters and has been charged with 10 counts, including conspiracy to commit theft from $10,000 to $100,000; theft from $10,000 to $100,000; possession of narcotics; and possession with intent to distribute narcotics. Ishmael, a cadet, was released today from the Baltimore County Detention Center, where he had been held on $650,000 bail.
Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said at a press briefing this afternoon that he ordered an audit of all 182,400 pieces of evidence in the evidence room as soon as he learned that the evidence room may have been compromised. He also ordered a review of all policies and procedures pertaining to the evidence room.
Over the past few weeks, officers – Executive Corps commanders, Internal Affairs officers, Criminal Investigation Division officers, Narcotics detectives and others – have spent thousands of hours, sometimes working around the clock, on the evidence room case.
At this point, Chief Johnson said, the investigation shows that the theft of items from the evidence room is the work of one individual – Nicholas Ishmael. Ishmael was served with termination papers today.
“This is a serious internal issue,” Chief Johnson said. “To say that I am deeply troubled by this serious breach is an understatement. Our citizens depend on this agency to solve crimes and make sure that criminals are successfully prosecuted, and I want them to know that we have devoted and will continue to devote all possible resources to investigating this situation.
Also, Chief Johnson said he is “disappointed that the conduct of one employee could reflect badly on this agency and the 2,500 BCoPD officers and civilians who work with integrity every single day.”
The Investigation and Audit
BCoPD became aware of a problem in its evidence room in early April, when a Homicide Unit detective tried to retrieve drug evidence for a case that was being tried in Circuit Court. When the drugs could not be found, the Chief’s office was notified, and Chief Johnson immediately ordered an internal investigation and comprehensive audit. The audit is supervised by Colonel Joseph Burris. The internal investigation remains ongoing.
The internal investigation led detectives to Ishmael. At that point, the Narcotics Section joined Internal Affairs in a weeks-long criminal investigation that included surveillance of the evidence room and of Ishmael and two family members. Two of Ishmael’s cousins also face drug charges.
The ongoing criminal investigation shows that Ishmael stole cocaine, morphine, Oxycodone and Alprazolam with a street value estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars. Detectives also found $40,000 in cash, stolen Tuesday and in Ishmael’s possession when he was arrested. The evidence was stolen from 15 narcotics cases, including one homicide case. (The homicide is the November 25, 2012 shooting of Alsawab Sawab in Towson.)
There may be additional charges against Ishmael.
Police do not believe that other cadets or officers were involved with Ishmael in the thefts, nor is there any indication of any technological or procedural failures in the evidence room. “We are confident that responsibility for this breach rests with one civilian employee,” Chief Johnson said.
BCoPD’s exhaustive audit began shortly after the first theft was discovered and has involved thousands of hours of investigation. Just in the past 24 hours, officers have examined 8,000 cases. All but four of those cases – which involve $450 in cash unaccounted for – have been reconciled. There is no evidence at this time that Ishmael is involved in those cases, but the investigation continues.
An additional 19,000 cases still must be audited.
About BCoPD Evidence Management
The Evidence Management Unit is responsible for the safekeeping, proper storage, records management and disposal of all property and evidence delivered to the Unit.
Staffing of the unit includes a lieutenant, a sergeant, a corporal, three officers and three cadets.
The evidence on hand includes 182,400 items, including 21,700 pieces of drug evidence, 4,500 guns and 2,750 money cases. All evidence is tracked through an electronic bar code system, a system that was instrumental in helping detectives link Ishmael to the thefts.
A quality control team conducts random, unannounced sampling audits. In addition, evidence room supervisors conduct unannounced monthly audits throughout the year. Based on the fact that these audits did not reveal any problems, as well as the fact that hundreds of cases are pulled each week for court use or disposal, police do not believe that Ishmael’s stealing began in August, when he was assigned to the evidence room.
About the Cadet Program
Cadets are civilian employees, ages 18 to 21. They often (but not always) use the position as a path toward a career in policing. Chief Johnson began his career as a cadet.
BCoPD currently employs about 40 cadets, assigned to entry-level tasks throughout the agency. They are subject to the same background checks as sworn officers, as well initial and random drug testing and a polygraph and a psychological examination. Ishmael’s background check was “uneventful,” Chief Johnson said.
Cadets have been employed in the evidence room for decades. Chief Johnson said this is the first case involving a cadet stealing evidence from the BCoPD evidence room.
Cadets assigned to the evidence room are responsible for retrieving evidence from what essentially is a large warehouse for officers and detectives when they need it; the cadets also return evidence to its proper place in the evidence room when detectives and officers return it.
Nonetheless, Chief Johnson said that all evidence room procedures, policies and equipment will be closely reviewed as a result of the Ishmael case.