WICHITA — At least 54 cases are missing evidence, according to a 2021 audit of the Wichita Police Department’s (WPD) Property and Evidence facility. The newly released information comes just a day after the city manager pointed to multiple issues within the facility.

This could mean cases could be thrown out, but Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said this is more of a records management issue, not a missing evidence issue.

When Bennett found out about the problems with the property and evidence facility, he wanted the details.

“That seems almost within the realm of human error,” said Bennett.

Bennett met with City leadership on Tuesday. Afterward, he said the issue is centered around records management.

“But to run a property and evidence section, it is not very equipped for that, and frankly, it’s appearing that is not equipped for that at all,” said Bennett.

Wichita Council Member Jeff Blubaugh visited the facility on Tuesday and said it is a mess and needs attention immediately.

Bennett shares similar concerns.

“It’s an embarrassment, in fact, for the department, but that is a far cry from suggesting that there is any evidence of malfeasance, criminality, lost, [and/or] stolen property,” said Bennett.

But if the evidence is found to be missing, it could cause cases to be thrown out, according to Monnat & Spurrier, Chartered Shareholder Attorney, Sal Intagliata.

“If you have clearly exculpatory evidence and it is gone, you are entitled to relief,” said Intagliata.

“If we find out that there are things where they are not supposed to be, then we are going to have issues, but thus far, that has not been brought to my attention,” said Bennett.

The City has a four-phase plan of action in place to fix the issues within property and evidence.

According to the plan, we will not know how many cases are missing evidence for at least 90 days.

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WICHITA — Tension is building between some leaders in the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County after the Wichita City Council voted Tuesday not to prosecute people who are caught with marijuana. While the city council still has one more reading before these kinds of misdemeanors are no longer prosecuted in municipal court, county officials warn because the district attorney’s office rarely prosecutes misdemeanor cases, the ordinance will only clog an already crowded system.

“So, you all pay for misdemeanor appointments,” District Attorney Marc Bennett told the Sedgwick Board of County Commissioners Wednesday.

Wichita City Council votes to decriminalize marijuana and fentanyl test strips

Bennett says the county could face significant financial impacts if Wichita passes an estimated 1,200-1,500 cases to his office each year.

“Probation, forensic science, the costs associated with testing all that marijuana,” Bennett said.

While the district attorney’s office can control how many cases it will prosecute, Sheriff Jeff Easter says he anticipates a major influx in bookings in a jail that is constantly nearing capacity.

“They can no longer just issue an NTA (Notice to Appear) and walk away. They have to arrest them and book them by state statute,” Sheriff Easter said.

Bennett says his biggest concern involving the city’s ordinance is the concept of ‘double jeopardy.’

“This notion that there’s 750 cases as if they are stand-alone cases where the person is only charged with one joint in his pocket. That’s not reality,” Bennett said.

But criminal defense lawyer Dan Monnat says the system can handle the change, allowing the City to reallocate time and resources to other, more serious cases.

“We’re eliminating prosecutions in one jurisdiction, so that doesn’t cost more money,” Monnat said.

Meanwhile, the Wichita Police Department is still working out a plan to move forward with these kinds of arrests. Experts say they do not anticipate an increase or decrease in racial profiling as a result of this ordinance.

“I think there needs to be checks and balances in policy, and there needs to be early warning signs that police officials need to recognize in their officers,” Dr. Michael Birzer, professor of criminal justice at Wichita State University, said.

Commissioner David Dennis is urging the Board of County Commissioners to consider a resolution in the near future regarding how to bill the City of Wichita for all additional expenses pertaining to this ordinance.

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