WINCHESTER — The city's police chief and commonwealth's attorney say alleged mishandling of evidence in the police department property room for seven years didn't compromise any investigations or prosecutions.
In a filing in Winchester Circuit Court on Friday, police accuse Capt. Leonard M. Bauserman of mismanaging the room from 2013 to 2020. Bauserman sought to contest a written reprimand he received, but the city determined since he wasn't demoted and didn't lose pay, he couldn't. The court filing from the city asks Judge Alexander R. Iden to hold a hearing and uphold the city's decision.
During those seven years, Bauserman was commander of the administrative office and his duties included property room oversight. Because mishandling of evidence can hinder investigations or compromise the chain-of-custody in prosecutions, efficient running of property rooms is crucial.
But the filing describes major issues with the room on Bauseman's watch. On a pre-disciplinary form dated March 21 that was part of an investigation in March by Deputy Chief Kelly Rice, Bauserman was accused of a "lack of accountability, process failures, lack of purging, failure to hold staff accountable and failure to document or process by policy."
Rice investigated in response to a departmental memo from Capt. Wally Stotlemyer, who took over for Bauserman in January when Bauserman was moved to the Office of the Chief as part of a departmental reorganization.
"There were countless issues in the property room that would require many hours to correct," Stotlemyer wrote. "Very little evidence/property was being destroyed, to the point where far more items were coming in than being destroyed."
Among the allegations:
- Misfiled documents related to a murder/missing persons case and files from a murder case placed in the property room in 2012 that weren't recorded as stored in the room.
- Evidence recorded in the department data base as destroyed but still in the room, as well as evidence recorded as being in the room that was destroyed.
- Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (rape kits) stored in several areas and "not destroyed when able to do so in compliance with Virginia law."
- Items being stored with no records including drugs.
- Guns in the drug room. Drugs in the gun room. Guns in all areas.
- Non-DNA items in the DNA refrigerators
- Incoming property not being recorded for days or weeks.
Stotlemyer wrote that since January, 16 boxes of documents were destroyed. He said all items that weren't supposed to be in the property room were destroyed in compliance with Virginia law, returned to their appropriate locations or placed in secure locations.
Bauserman was also accused of missing deadlines for processing concealed carry pistol permit applications, mismanaging maintenance of the department's vehicle fleet and not promptly returning calls or texts and showing up late to crime scenes. In a point-by-point written defense, Bauserman said he was being falsely accused. He said 5,438 cases had all of their property destroyed on his watch. He noted there were drugs in the property room from 2007 when he took over in 2013 and drugs were disposed of faster after a drug incinerator was purchased in 2016.
Bauserman said he had good rapport with the Winchester Circuit Court Clerk's office regarding pistol permit applications. He said he always worked to save the department money on vehicle repairs and said he always returned calls and texts promptly and showed up at crime scenes promptly.
"All of my evaluations up to this point have been good," said Bauserman, who was hired in 1992 and earns $89,000 annually. "I've never had a bad one, never been written up [and have had] a pretty good career until now."
However, Bauserman received a written reprimand from Chief John R. Piper on April 6. Piper wrote that Rice's investigation determined Bauserman's "failures and unacceptable work performance." Bauserman was placed on a performance improvement plan.
While critical of Bauserman's property room oversight, Piper said in an email on Monday that Bauserman hadn't compromised any prosecutions and he was "unaware" of any investigations being hindered. Despite the allegations regarding the rape kits, Piper, hired in 2017, said no Virginia laws were violated regarding their destruction.
Marc H. Abrams, Winchester commonwealth's attorney, said Monday he was unaware of any chain-of-custody problems in prosecutions related to the property room. "If it's not on a proper shelf in the property room, as long as they can keep the chain, that's not really that much of a concern," said Abrams, who has worked in the office since 1988 and took office as commonwealth's attorney in 2015.
In the city's filing, City Manager Daniel C. Hoffman wrote that Bauserman also seeks to contest Amanda R. Behan being promoted in April from captain to deputy chief rather than him. Hoffman wrote that Bauserman wasn't discriminated against.
"Any claims to the contrary are not only unfounded and unwarranted, but demean the hard work and accomplishments of Deputy Chief Behan," Hoffman wrote.
Attorney J. Caleb Jones, who represents Bauserman, denied his client was filing a grievance over Behan's promotion, but said Bauserman's reprimand was discriminatory and he has a right to grieve his discipline
"He's received certain disciplinary notices that do not seem to make sense and they seem to be contradictory to the facts," Jones said Monday. "This is a black mark on his reputation and that's what we're challenging."