From Crime Lab to Crime Scene

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee was facing the biggest crisis in his career.

Earlier in the day a year ago this week, the Detroit Free Press had revealed the city’s crime lab was open to trespassers. Thousands of rounds of live ammunition, sealed evidence kits and case files – some containing Social Security numbers of rape and assault victims – were among the ruins of a crime lab abandoned by Detroit police two years ago.

Facing calls for his resignation, Godbee apologized during a press conference and pledged to launch an immediate and prompt investigation.

“As chief of police, it is my responsibility to follow up based on the information presented … to ensure our system of jurisprudence works properly,” Godbee told a room full of reporters. “The public has to have complete confidence that there was no evidence in the building.”

That was a year ago Monday– and Godbee has yet to divulge the outcome of his investigation.

No longer a reporter at the Free Press, I sought out what no other media outlet would over the past year: What, if anything, has Godbee done during this investigation?

Does Godbee want us to know the truth?

Turns out, Godbee was responsible for overseeing the removal of evidence from the crime lab when he was assistant police chief, former Police Chief Warren Evans told me.

Over the past week, neither Godbee nor his communications team would return my call.

And that’s unfortunate because I made another discovery: The crime lab that Godbee pledged to guard from further problems is open to trespass. Scrappers have begun removing metal, and the former elementary school is now a virtual mural for graffiti artists in historic Brush Park.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Carl Clarke, who was riding his bike past the eyesore on a recent weekday. “The city only cares about fixing problems when someone is paying attention.”

Inside the lab, a few stray bullets lay among the molding floor. But for the most part, the evidence and records are gone, trashed with the rest of the debris found in the building a year ago.

Since Godbee won’t talk to the independent media, we await his response to the corporate-owned newspapers and TV stations that have ignored this story for the past year.

Godbee and the media, don’t let us down again.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.