KSLA News 12 Investigates: Report sheds light on theft of thousands of pills from SPD
Almost four years ago, thousands of highly-addictive hydrocodone pills were discovered stolen from the Shreveport Police Department's evidence room.
In the new SPD evidence room, police officers are no longer allowed past the evidence processing room.
Shreveport PD's old property room reportedly did not have functioning security cameras.
SPD's new evidence processing room. Once a barcode is created for the evidence, the officer then sticks it into an appropriately sized box that looks like a locker. Once the door is closed to the locker, the officer no longer has access to it.
In 2014, the department moved its property room from a building that was formerly a liquor store to this $3.5 million dollar building built specifically to hold evidence.
SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) -
Almost four years ago, thousands of hydrocodone pills were discovered stolen from the Shreveport Police Department's evidence room.
The highly addictive pills were found to be missing when the department's Internal Affairs Bureau conducted an in-depth audit of the facility in May 2012. About 14,100 of 26,336 hydrocodone pills seized in a drug bust in late 2011 were gone, police said.
The pills never have been recovered.
Hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid derived from either of two naturally occurring opiates, including codeine, is used to treat moderate to severe pain.
Even after the investigation wrapped, there were few answers as to how they were stolen or who may have taken them.
KSLA News 12 Investigates filed a public records request for the investigator's report on the theft.
Information gleaned from that request shines some light on how witnesses say the crime might have been committed and who might be responsible.
According to the report, the crime was an inside job likely by a longtime police officer.
When the pills were discovered missing in May 2012, Police Chief Willie Shaw called for an investigation to get to the bottom of what happened.
Through a public records request to the Caddo district attorney's office, KSLA News 12 Investigates obtained the 59-page Police Department report detailing the results of that administrative and criminal investigation.
A police supervisor and federal agents interviewed several employees, including those in the property room.
The conclusion of the investigation points to Sgt. Troy Skeesick, whom investigators believe likely is responsible for stealing the pills.
He has not been charged with the crime.
At the time, Skeesick was a 21-year veteran of the department who worked in and around drugs as part of his daily routine as a street-level interdiction unit supervisor .
The investigation's summary states that the officer might have become addicted to hydrocodone after needing it for legitimate pain.
Witnesses told investigators that Skeesick frequently would show up at the evidence room with a black bag, place pills in the bag, take pictures with his cell phone then leave without checking out any evidence.
His bag reportedly never was searched.
The officer alleged the photographs were for a "reverse narcotics sting" or a narcotics class he claimed to teach. Investigators found no evidence of either, according to the report.
The report concludes by saying that Skeesick "manipulated the employees who worked at the property room, using his supervisor status in narcotics, to his longtime friendships with the employees who trusted him as a fellow officer."
Skeesick no longer is employed with the Police Department.
He was not put on administrative leave at the time and was not fired, police spokesman Bill Goodin confirmed.
Information released to KSLA News 12 Investigates by the Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System shows Skeesick opted for early retirement in October 2012, 3 months after the investigation summary is dated.
Citing personnel issues, Goodin could not speak specifically about why Skeesick never faced consequences following the investigator's findings.
Wayne Smith, assistant police chief of the department's support division, said permission from the department is not required when it comes to retirement. "No matter what is going on in your life, you can retire. It is just like quitting; you can quit anytime you wish."
For almost four years, the investigator's findings have been sitting at the district attorney's office with no action taken.
"It is not dead on the vine. It has not been closed. It is still an active case," District Attorney James Stewart said.
He would not talk to us specifically about the case because it still is open.
Stewart did, however, give a broad explanation as to why cases might take a while to be prosecuted, if ever.
"A lot of times, they are investigatory files that law enforcement agencies send over to us, where there has not been an arrest. They want us to look at it to see if we have enough to go forward," the district attorney said. "If not, what else do we need to go forward in the case to get where we need to get it?"
Sometimes when an investigation lacks enough evidence, Steward said, they will ask the investigating agency for more information.
It was not made clear whether that's been the case with the missing pills investigation.
"In a lot of circumstances, we are waiting for them to get back to us as to what they are finding," the district attorney said.
The agency either gets the information to his office or says they can't find it, Stewart said.
Sometimes a case has to move forward during a certain period of time or it will die and never make it to court, he continued..
"My preferences is to dispose of cases one way or the other, either we take them and move forward with them or we reject them."
Some sources have told KSLA News 12 Investigates that a lack of evidence is likely the reason this missing pills case hasn't been prosecuted. And the lack of substantial evidence possibly is due to poor protocols investigators found in the evidence room at the time.
The 2012 investigation revealed that the video surveillance system was broken and there reportedly was no entry and exit log kept.
The documents obtained by KSLA News 12 Investigates indicate that employees not assigned to the property room are supposed to be escorted while there. Even so, witnesses recount Skeesick not being watched and even at times being left in the drug room alone.
Authorities say a theft like the one that occurred in 2012 couldn't happen now because of a new state-of-the-art evidence room and new security policies.
In 2014, the Police Department moved its property room from a building that formerly was a liquor store to a $3.5 million building built specifically to hold evidence.
"It was time for an upgrade. Past time, to be frankly honest," Smith said, admitting that the former location was outdated and not secure enough. "The old building was very dilapidated and very aged."
The newer 21,000-square-foot facility is where all evidence now is housed.
"I can tell you the thickness of the walls to the thickness of the floors," said Smith, who oversaw the overhaul from beginning to end.
However, he said, the building was not constructed in response to the pill theft. "This building was on the drawing board well before any of that occurred."
Still, the pill theft did serve as a lesson and did result in tighter protocols.
"Changes have been made," Smith said. "I am completely confident with this new building with the technology and procedures we have in place."
Security measures now include 30 video cameras. "There is no place in this building, obviously other than the restroom, where you can be and you are not being constantly monitored," Smith said.
And unlike with the former property room, police officers no longer have any access to the actual room where evidence is stored. Only nine property room workers have access to evidence.
To even get through the gate and side door, police officers need both an ID card and a code. Once inside, officers are only allowed in the evidence-processing room.
That room is open 24/7, but officers are only permitted in the building during their assigned shift.
Once a bar code is created for the evidence, the officer sticks the piece of evidence into an appropriately sized box that looks like a locker. Once the door to that locker is closed, the officer no longer has access to it.
Evidence room workers on the other side of the wall then store the evidence in its permanent location.
With the relatively new system, officers never are allowed to be escorted past the evidence-processing room.
As a result, officials said, it is highly unlikely for a repeat of what the internal investigation suggests happened in the case of the missing pills.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction for us," Smith said.
As for Skeesick, KSLA News 12 Investigates made multiple attempts to reach out to him and his wife to hear his side of the story. They have yet to respond to those invitations.
When asked about the FBI's role in the missing pills case, FBI spokesman Craig Betbeze, of the bureau's New Orleans division, had no comment.
Calls to Drug Enforcement Agency spokeswoman Debbie Webber about her agency's involvement in the case have not been returned.
And a U.S. attorney's office spokesman said they can't confirm nor deny whether federal charges are pending until someone is officially charged.
In October 2015, the president of the Shreveport Police Officers' Association sued the Caddo district attorney's office for allegedly not fulfilling his public records request regarding the missing pills investigation.
While some documents have been provided to Michael Carter and his association, the lawsuit alleges that the district attorney "refused to produce crime scene diagrams and photos, investigative reports, recorded interviews and transcripts thereof, District Attorney investigator reports of witness interviews and work product, asserting that they pertain to a case in which criminal litigation is still reasonably anticipated."
In his petition, Carter says he and the police association "are unaware of any ongoing investigation and do not believe that criminal litigation is reasonably anticipated."
The lawsuit asks for a court order to compel the district attorney to produce all the records requested or explain why they should not be turned over.
In court documents responding to the allegation, then-interim District Attorney Dale Cox said he didn't hand over certain documents because they are not public record.
Stewart said he is reviewing the case.
Meantime, a judge ruled Jan. 30 that the district attorney's office must turn over the files by May if no arrest is made by then.