Former officer accused of stealing from police evidence room wants trial delay
Over a five year period, evidence from 11 criminal investigations vanished from the Lake Havasu City Police Department’s evidence room. In six of those investigations, a lack of evidence prevented suspects from ever seeing a trial. Now the former detective accused of taking that evidence has asked to put his own trial off a little longer.
Flagstaff attorney Adam Zickerman filed Tuesday for a continuance in the case of John H. Johnson, who was arrested in 2016 on charges including 43 counts of forgery, two counts of fraud, two counts of theft and one count of possession of dangerous drugs.
According to police, Johnson primarily investigated drug-related cases between 2006 and 2011. During that span, evidence from nearly a dozen drug-related cases was allegedly taken from the the police department’s evidence room, as well as almost $5,000 in undercover funds.
Police and the Arizona Department of Public Safety began an investigation into the missing evidence in April 2013, and built their case against Johnson, who ultimately resigned from the Police Department in 2014.
The investigation continued for two years before the case was turned over to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. According to police, Johnson removed methamphetamine from the department’s evidence room with the intent of distributing it to others, and altered departmental receipts in order to steal thousands of dollars from police undercover funds.
Johnson was scheduled to stand trial on Feb. 5, but Johnson’s attorney has asked for the continuance in response to a change in prosecutors.
“The matter was previously being handled by Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Bob Johnson, and now the matter has been reassigned to Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Henry Whitmer for the duration of the case,” Zickerman wrote in his request for a continuance. “This shift, coupled with undersigned counsel’s availability, has made it incredibly difficult to conduct any of the pretrial interviews to date.”
Zickerman also said he and Whitmer will be unavailable to conduct pre-trial interviews in a timely manner. Whitmer will require time to acquaint himself with the intricacies of the case, Zickerman said.
Whitmer, however, has already submitted a list of aggravating circumstances against Johnson for the court to consider as it moves forward. Filed Dec. 10, Whitmer said aggravating circumstances in the case include the value of property taken, the presence of an accomplice in Johnson’s alleged theft and the fact that Johnson was a public servant while the offense was allegedly committed.
Since Johnson’s arrest, the Lake Havasu City Police Department has implemented security measures to prevent such thefts from happening again. The department’s in-house evidence room is overseen by a limited staff. The room is monitored with motion sensor cameras, an alarm system and deadbolts to ensure that evidence is secure after hours. Evidence at the department can only be accessed by a special key code, and evidence such as guns, money and drugs are audited every three to six months, according to statements by department officials.
Attempts to contact Whitmer by telephone were unsuccessful as of Wednesday.