'Nightmare' Fire Destroys 30 Years of NYPD Evidence

Forensic evidence in unsolved crimes lost in Tuesday's blaze at Erie Basin Auto Pound
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2022 11:04 AM CST
'Nightmare' Fire Destroys 30 Years of NYPD Evidence
Firefighters battle a blaze at a warehouse in the Brooklyn Borough of New York on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, in New York.   (WABC via AP)

A New York Police Department warehouse burned Tuesday morning and along with it "the possibility of justice in untold cases," the New York Times reports, as "troves of evidence gathered over decades" were damaged or destroyed. The Erie Basin Auto Pound in Brooklyn held impounded vehicles, forensic fibers from cold cases, and DNA evidence from violent crimes. Following the three-alarm fire—potentially caused by a ion-lithium battery stored in the impound yard, per the New York Daily News—"soggy, crumpled boxes bearing fragments of bar codes slumped onto fire-hose-flooded streets" while "small plastic cylinders containing genetic material lay melted, or broken open and submerged in dirty water," the Times reports.

Fire officials said everything inside the building was destroyed or damaged. And along with those items, "the hopes and dreams of uncounted innocent people," civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby tells the Times. "There's no question that this is a nightmare. The question at this point is how big of a nightmare is it?" asks John Ryan, who formerly served as acting Queens district attorney. Chief Jeffrey Maddrey couldn't tell reporters how many cases were affected Tuesday but noted "some of the evidence goes back a long time, 20 to 30 years," per the Daily News. "We won't know the magnitude of what was destroyed until we get an itemized invoice and see what was in there." He noted the warehouse, which partially collapsed, did not hold evidence related to sexual assault cases.

Much of the evidence would've already been documented and photographed, with DNA tested, a law enforcement official tells the Times. Judges previously allowed police to use such documentation in place of actual evidence in criminal cases after the same warehouse was flooded when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. But the loss of cold-case evidence means it cannot be tested with new techniques. Kuby argues inmates could also suffer from the loss of evidence as they appeal verdicts and argue for exoneration. Vanessa Potkin of New York's Innocence Project adds "the ability of wrongfully convicted and imprisoned people in New York City to prove their innocence literally went up in smoke with this fire." (More New York City stories.)

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