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Investigation Continues Into Evidence Theft At State Crime Lab

Missoula Police Department vehicle.
Cheri Trusler
Missoula police car.

An employee of the State Crime Lab in Missoula has allegedly stolen portions of evidence from pending drug cases.

Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst declined to offer specific details, but said the situation is ongoing.

“It’s under investigation by the Missoula Police Department. We anticipate that charges will be filed soon,” she said.

Pabst says charges could be filed as soon as tomorrow. 

Crime lab officials, meanwhile, are conducting their own internal investigation.

The Missoulian reports the lab started a random drug testing policy earlier this month.

State Justice Department spokeswoman Anastasia Burton says drug evidence was removed from the State Crime Lab in cases that have already been worked.

In an emailed statement to Montana Public Radio, Burton said it’s too soon to know if any pending court cases will be affected, but the lab has reached out to prosecutors in all known cases with pending trials.

In 2015, Steve Brester was accused of stealing opioids from the Missoula crime lab and tampering with records. His case forced prosecutors to drop charges against almost 70 defendants across Montana.

Brester was convicted last year and received a 10-year, fully suspended sentence with community service.

A Billings Police Department evidence technician was fired earlier this month after drug evidence went missing from the department’s evidence storage. The missing evidence could affect as many as 40 felony cases.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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