Joseph Graves: Drug tampering at Pensacola, Florida, lab prompts changes

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Florida prosecutors will drop some drug cases and more closely scrutinize drug evidence after a former state crime lab analyst was accused of stealing narcotics from evidence bags, replacing them with over-the-counter medicine.

State attorneys throughout Florida said it remains unclear how many cases will be dropped because of Joseph Graves' alleged thefts. Evidence seized by 80 law enforcement agencies in 35 of Florida's 67 counties may have been compromised.

"This has created a very difficult burden on our entire office. A very significant amount of manpower has been devoted to this," said State Attorney Bill Eddins, who said investigators have reviewed more than 2,600 cases Graves handled since 2006 and have found 53 in Eddins' district where drug evidence appears to have been compromised.

Eddins' district includes Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.

"In most of the cases, we have been able to prosecute based on other evidence," Eddins said, but some remain in jeopardy.

Graves, who was based at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Pensacola lab, was arrested in February on charges of stealing and selling painkillers and other drugs that he was supposed to be testing for prosecutions. Investigators have not said whether they believe he was also abusing the drugs, which included the painkillers oxycodone, morphine and hydromorphone.

Graves, who resigned shortly before his arrest, is free on $290,000 bond while awaiting trial. He and his attorney have not returned phone messages. He faces decades in prison if convicted on all charges. Eddins said additional charges could be filed.

Meanwhile, Eddins said he was requiring his prosecutors to check evidence bags in all new drug cases to make sure that the drugs logged by arresting officers have not been tampered with or removed.

Other state attorneys have implemented similar measures. A panel tasked by the FDLE to review crime lab procedures has recommended changes to prevent similar thefts, but they haven't been released yet.

Graves is not cooperating in the investigation, Eddins said.

State Attorney Willie Meggs, whose district includes Franklin, Gadsden, Leon, Liberty, Jefferson and Wakulla counties, said his attorneys have had fewer than a dozen cases potentially compromised.

He has also changed evidence review policies, requiring the investigating officer and the person who did the testing to inspect the evidence before trial to make sure it hasn't been compromised, he said.

State Attorney Glenn Hess, whose district includes Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties, said numerous cases in his district were affected.

"We have had some that we will have to dismiss," he said, but didn't give a specific number.

Hess said prosecution in the majority of those cases could move forward on other charges.

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