Law enforcement officers are required to follow strict procedures to ensure the integrity of evidence in criminal cases from the time it is collected until it is presented at trial. Vancouver PD Policy 804 requires officers to package and submit items to the VPD Evidence Unit by the end of the shift during which they were collected. All access to evidence from that point forward must be documented through a written and signed “chain of custody”.
Imagine a friend or family member is facing criminal charges in Vancouver, WA. The detective assigned to investigate has authored reports with prejudicial statements about the defendant, and she has verified absolute guilt of the accused during all contacts made in connection with her investigation. She is committed to securing a conviction with no regard for conducting an unbiased investigation.This scenario has played out repeatedly in Clark County courtrooms since 2013 when Patrol Officer Sandra Aldridge was assigned as a detective.
Official allegations have been made against Detective Aldridge for tampering with evidence in Internal Affairs complaints, WA State Appeals, and civil lawsuits. Yet her supervisors take no corrective action when she describes securing evidence as an option, and refers to the Evidence Unit as a “middle-man”. In an audio-taped interview with Internal Affairs Sgt. Kevin Hatley, Aldridge admits to violating VPD evidence handling policy 804 (play audio clip below):
Detective Aldridge goes beyond disregard for mandated procedure. When it comes to sensitive digital evidence (particularly photos and audio) she has developed a process by which she is able to maintain sole possession of, and have unlimited access to, defendant’s cell phones.
According to VPD Policy 814: Computers and Digital Evidence:
“Officers should not attempt to access, review or search the contents of digital devices prior to examination by a forensic expert.”
“Officers should be aware of the potential to destroy information through careless or improper handling, and utilize the most knowledgeable available resources”
“Officers handling and submitting recorded and digitally stored evidence will comply with these procedures to ensure the integrity and admissibility of such evidence.”
And according to VPD Policy 814.54: Preservation of Digital Evidence:
“Only evidence technicians are authorized to copy original digital media that is held as evidence. The original digital media shall remain in evidence and shall remain unaltered.”
In the second audio clip below, Detective Aldridge elaborates on her practice of handling the sensitive digital evidence through the extraction of data from an individual’s iPhone.
**It is important to note that “Cellebrite” is highly technical equipment used in computer forensics to extract and analyze data from digital devices. The Cellebrite organization offers rigorous training to qualify forensic specialists in law enforcement and elsewhere to properly use their equipment and programs. Cellebrite Certification requires 80% mastery proven through written and practical testing, and participants must retrain for recertification every two years. According to the organization’s records, Detective Aldridge has not been trained by Cellebrite. She is neither certified nor is she qualified to handle or download sensitive digital evidence from electronic devices.
**More about Detective Aldridge’s “process” of mishandling evidence and other violations of Policy & Procedure, Civil Rights and Law in upcoming segments of the Voices Network series: CONVEYOR BELT INJUSTICE.