Billings drug evidence missing, felony cases affected
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Billings Police Department evidence technician has been fired after drug evidence went missing from the department’s evidence storage, affecting numerous criminal cases, Police Chief Rich St. John said Tuesday.
Rawlyn Strizich, 38, told her supervisor within days of a scheduled audit that she had been taking prescription opiates, including oxycodone, from case evidence for her own use, St. John said.
She was suspended. After an initial audit determined drugs were missing from 138 cases involving 134 suspects or defendants, Strizich was fired, St. John said.
The city and Yellowstone County prosecutors along with defense attorneys and the public defender’s office were notified about the missing evidence, he said.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told The Billings Gazette he has been reviewing cases for the past 10 days and says the missing evidence could affect as many as 40 felony cases in his office, including some where charges have yet to be filed.
Strizich used the facility’s computer system to search for cases that had evidence including opiates, St. John said. She took the drugs despite the presence of security cameras and other staff in the building.
In most cases her actions were covert, but an “investigation showed other instances where there was complete disregard of the discovery,” St. John said. He did not elaborate.
“Strizich’s actions are not consistent with nor a reflection of the professional conduct exhibited daily,” by the staff at the evidence facility,” St. John said. “Unfortunately, she broke the trust of her co-workers, citizens. She will be held accountable and hopefully get the help she needs.”
A call to a phone listing for a Rawlin Strizich did not ring and did not have a way to leave a message seeking comment.
St. John hopes to make several improvements at the evidence locker including increasing staff, updating security equipment, conducting regular and random audits, removing evidence that is longer needed for cases and conducting more thorough background checks of employees.
“One’s facility is only as secure as the staff is honest,” he said.
In April 2016, a former Billings Police Department employee was charged with stealing drugs from the evidence locker. The drugs were from a 2012 accidental overdose and did not affect any ongoing criminal investigations.
However in 2015, dozens of criminal cases statewide were affected after evidence technician Steven Brester took opioids that were being stored as evidence at the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula. Brester pleaded guilty to tampering with public records and drug possession and was given a 10-year suspended sentence in August 2017. Prosecutors dropped charges against 69 defendants across the state.
Brester took the job at the crime lab after retiring from the Missoula Police force.