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Cases at risk after Arkansas detective accused of stealing drugs

BENTONVILLE -- Problems with evidence kept at the Bella Vista Police Department mean a strong possibility one drug case will be dismissed, prosecutors say, and an audit is underway to determine whether more cases are at risk.

Clayton Jon Roberts, a former Bella Vista detective, was arrested last week on seven counts of controlled substances fraudulent practices and seven counts -- four felony and three misdemeanor -- of tampering with physical evidence.

Roberts, 36, of Bella Vista admitted to Benton County sheriff's office detectives he stole narcotics from the department's evidence room, according to a probable cause affidavit. He admitted stealing pills from evidence in current criminal cases, unattended death cases and the department's drug take-back bin, according to court documents.

Roberts and another detective, Mark Kugler, were fired in connection with the tampered evidence. Kugler hasn't been arrested.

Benton County prosecutor Nathan Smith said his office has identified one case that may have to be dismissed because the evidence is now missing. Smith said Bella Vista police are reviewing current and closed cases to determine others that may have been tampered with by Roberts.

"Any allegation of police misconduct is a grave matter, especially when it may affect the outcome of criminal cases," Smith said.

Smith said his office is working with Bella Vista police.

The prosecutor's office is currently handling 94 drugs cases from Bella Vista, Smith said. Forty-four cases are simple drug possession and 40 are drug paraphernalia cases. Some of the cases concern illicit drugs instead of prescribed drugs.

Smith said almost all simple possession cases result in probationary sentences, unless they accompany a more serious charge such as delivery. He expects the audit to take several more weeks.

He stressed the audit will also include closed cases.

"In addition to working to convict the guilty, I am also bound to safeguard the rights of criminal defendants to a fair trial and to ensure that no one was wrongly convicted as a result of this misconduct," Smith said.

"Whether evidence is found to be missing from an ongoing case or a closed case, we will alert the court and work with the defendant's attorney to ensure that justice is done."

Jay Saxton, Benton County's chief public defender, said his office may represent some people involved in the Bella Vista cases. Saxton said his office plans to review its cases to see if any are affected.

Saxton said he also believes the prosecutor's office will notify him or any defense attorney if evidence in one of their cases was tampered with.

Roberts admitted he was responsible for switching pills in evidence packages, according to court documents.

He said he had an addiction and started taking narcotic pills from the evidence room shortly after he was given access in 2015, according to the affidavit.

He searched through reports looking at cases involving Oxycodone or Hydrocodone pills, according to the affidavit.

Roberts said he was responsible for any pills missing, and he could have accessed the evidence room to get pills on more than 20 occasions, according to the affidavit.


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Metro on 01/14/2018

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