Trial sheds light on Hayden police | SteamboatToday.com

Trial sheds light on Hayden police

Christine Metz

The Hayden Police Department is changing the way it handles evidence after a court trial revealed Thursday that the department did not keep records of who examines the evidence.

A plea agreement was reached Thursday afternoon in District Court between Deputy District Attorney Erick Knaus and the defendant Paul Catanzaro.

Knaus made the offer after Hayden Police Chief Jody Lenahan testified in court that the department had not kept records of when the evidence was checked out.

“Generally, there may have been problems introduced with the evidence,” Knaus said. “At that point, it seemed more prudent to settle the case.”

Knaus offered to drop Catanzaro’s felony charge of possessing cocaine, if he pleaded guilty to possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, both petty offenses.

Catanzaro accepted and received a sentence of 20 hours of community service and a $100 fine and more than $200 in court costs.

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Catanzaro’s charges stem from a March 3, 2003, incident in which drugs allegedly were found in Catanzaro’s suitcase as he was boarding the plane at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Thursday was the start of what was intended to be a two-day jury trial on the case. A jury was selected that morning.

“We were planning on seeing the trial through to the conclusion,” said Catanzaro’s attorney, Kristopher Hammond.

Hammond and Knaus said the trial took an unexpected turn Thursday afternoon. Lenahan was the second witness to be called.

During cross-examination, Hammond questioned Lenahan about how the evidence was kept and recorded.

Lenahan admitted that the Hayden Police Department did not have any records for when evidence was checked out. Lenahan testified that the department did not have a procedure for keeping track of the evidence.

On Friday, Lenahan said the police department would start using sign-out sheets to check out evidence. Although the police department ensures an officer is in the room when evidence is examined, it had not kept records of who checked out evidence or when it was taken out of its evidence closet.

The evidence closet holds evidence from between 40 and 50 cases, some involving drug, rape and DUI charges.

Lenahan, who has been a police officer in Hayden for 30 years, said the way the department handled evidence has never been a problem until Thursday’s trial. But he did say that most police departments do use sign-out sheets when evidence is checked out.

“Part of the problem is that cops don’t testify every day, so we forget to do a few things that are pretty important,” Lenahan said.

A few months ago, a Hayden police officer turned in a ticket late to the Routt County Court on the controversial Don Nord case. The ticket was for possession of 1 to 8 ounces of marijuana. Judge James Garrecht dismissed the charges because the ticket was submitted late.

Officials had the option to file charges again.

The ticket was late, Lenahan said, because the officer was a part-time officer and was still working on the report.

— To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com