Acquittal follows lost statement

Published 8:29 pm Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tape of police interview deleted from system

The Suffolk Police Department revealed last week it lost the taped statement of a man accused of molesting a 4-year-old girl.

Derek Hamlin, who was charged with aggravated sexual battery and object sexual penetration, was found not guilty by a jury earlier this month.

“It was deleted inadvertently,” Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett said, explaining there was a problem with the software that records audio and video of police interviews.

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The loss of the statement was only one in a string of blows to the commonwealth’s case, prosecutor Nicole Belote said.

“I think it was a piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Do I think it was the ultimate reason that the jury came back not guilty? No. I just think it was a piece of it.”

Hamlin was indicted in June on charges of molesting the girl. According to city spokeswoman Debbie George, he was interviewed by two detectives and one detective sergeant in an interview room at the new police headquarters building. The two interview rooms in the building are equipped with audio and video recording devices.

“They did interview this individual, and some statements were made that would have been used against him in court,” George said.

However, a sergeant noticed the date stamp on the video was incorrect and went into the system to correct the date, Police Chief Bennett said. Later the same day, when detectives prepared to burn a CD of the taped statement, they could not find it.

Two taped witness statements for cases unrelated to the alleged molestation also were missing, Bennett added.

The police department contacted the company that manufactures the system, Bennett said. A technician examined the system and determined there was a problem with the software that “shouldn’t have happened,” Bennett said.

The company replaced the software free of charge but was unable to recover the lost videos, he added.

George noted Suffolk detectives have only been using the technology since August 2009, when the new headquarters building opened. Before, they relied on writing notes during interviews.

“Up until we moved into the new building, statements from anyone were taken in longhand, which of course is not the best scenario when you’re trying to talk to someone in reference to a crime,” said George, a former detective with the Suffolk department. “It interrupts the flow of the interview.”

Aside from the loss of the statement, Belote said, the judge would not allow the young girl, now 5, to testify. Both factors damaged the case, she said, but they were devastating when combined.

“I think [the video] was a piece of the puzzle, but had the little girl been able to testify … we might have been OK,” she said. “Those are two pieces that I think the jury considered.”