A Utah County evidence tech is accused of stealing prescription drugs

(Photo courtesy of Utah County Sheriff's Office) Brian William Smith

A Utah County Sheriff’s employee will soon face criminal charges after authorities accused him of taking prescription drugs from the evidence room.

Sgt. Spencer Cannon announced Friday that the department has been conducting an internal investigation for the past several months after another evidence tech reported in late February that some drugs were missing from a disposal barrel.

After an internal audit and a criminal investigation by Spanish Fork Police Department, Cannon said it’s expected that prosecutors will file charges against Brian William Smith, 38, for allegedly stealing drugs connected to a dozen criminal cases.

Smith, who has been a sheriff’s office employee since 2008, resigned less than a week after his fellow evidence technician notified their boss about the possibly missing drugs.

Investigators then combed through 34,000 pieces of evidence, according to Cannon, to try to determine the scope of the theft. They identified 17 cases where Smith accessed evidence scheduled for destruction without following the proper procedure — and 12 where prescription medications were missing.

Cannon said the other employee who worked with Smith had noticed things seemed a little off, like Smith coming in on the weekends to do tasks that generally are done during the week. But it wasn’t until that employee spotted evidence missing that the sheriff’s office began investigating.

In response to the internal audit, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office evaluated its procedures and made some changes, according to Cannon, which included installing more surveillance cameras.

“There comes a point where you just have to give a level of trust,” Cannon said, “and you try to mitigate that risk of these kind of things happening by doing extremely thorough background checks. They happen sometimes.”

Smith had been working in the evidence room since 2015, and had been a corrections officer at the county for the previous seven years.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said Friday that of the dozen cases affected, five had been closed after defendants pleaded guilty. Prosecutors never pursued charges in two cases, and two are “unknown.” There are three cases that “aren’t officially closed yet,” including a case in Salt Lake County where a defendant had pleaded guilty. That person’s sentencing is on hold until more information is known.

It’s not clear, Leavitt said, how Smith’s alleged actions might affect the two other open cases, which are being prosecuted in Utah County.

This isn’t the only evidence technician in Utah accused of stealing drugs in recent years.

A former Weber County evidence technician was sentenced in December to spend a year in jail after she admitted that she tore through evidence bags to eat confiscated methamphetamine.

Weber prosecutors say Candice Follum’s actions led their office to dismiss about 20 criminal prosecutions that were either dismissed or the defendant’s received “sweetheart deals” because of how Follum handled the evidence.

In Weber County, investigators found 38 cases where Follum took meth from sealed packages, and authorities believes about 60 cases in total were affected. She admitted to stealing drugs from the evidence bags for three years and had been eating the drugs while on the job.

After an internal audit, Weber County officials also changed their evidence room procedures, which included cameras being installed to monitor the evidence.

Earlier this month, the state auditor called for Utah’s law enforcement agencies to evaluate and improve their storage systems after auditors reviewed seven unnamed departments and found all of them had items missing or misplaced from their inventory, in addition to items marked as destroyed that weren’t, or vice versa.

Misplaced items — defined as property that technicians eventually found but not in the locations listed on an inventory — accounted for the majority of so-called discrepancies, with 198 items misplaced across the seven agencies.

The review found 171 items that were destroyed but still shown in inventory, and 139 items that were missing.

The vast majority of missing items were drugs and drug paraphernalia. Only four cases where property went missing involved other types: in three instances it was money, and in one case, a firearm.

Because of lax inventory records, auditors couldn’t determine if the items were missing “due to poor record keeping, theft, or some other reason."