ALPHARETTA, Ga. - An attorney representing an accused Forsyth County drug dealer says he learned a detective on the case was fired for mishandling evidence after watching a story on Channel 2 Action News, and he believes that might have violated his client’s rights.
Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik broke news in January that Alpharetta police had fired Detective Shawn Chapman after an internal affairs investigation determined he “grossly mishandled” evidence during a raid at Christopher Walker’s Ellington Cove home in October.
Investigators said they found a large amount of drugs, cash and guns in Walker’s home.
An internal affairs report Petchenik obtained said Chapman found a large stash of cash, nearly $4,000, in a nightstand, but instead of turning it over to his superiors, investigators say Chapman took the cash into a bathroom, only returning it after other detectives starting yelling about missing money.
The report also said Chapman wasn’t truthful with investigators.
“The whole concept of an officer messing with the integrity of a search is troubling,” said Rafe Banks. “A criminal case is based on the integrity of officers doing things right on scene, maintaining records of it and when it goes wrong, defense counsel needs to know about it.”
Banks said he’s filed what’s called a Brady Order, asking a judge to compel the state to come clean about all of its evidence, both good and bad for his client.
“I don’t know what I don’t know,” he said.
Banks stopped short of saying a judge should toss the case against Walker.
“That’s a reach. The problem is the integrity of the search process and how that affects evidence at trial,” he said.
In a letter sent to Banks, provided to Petchenik by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Ron Freeman said his office “fully complied” with the law and didn’t withhold any information from the district attorney.
“No evidence was believed to have been lost, altered or tainted during the search warrant execution,” Freeman wrote.
Despite the sheriff’s assertion, Banks told Petchenik he also believes Chapman should face criminal charges.
“One, he was trying to steal money,” he said. “Two, how do we know this was the only thing that happened?’
Alpharetta officials initially told Petchenik Chapman was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, but in an e-mail, Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn didn’t rule that out.
“I’ve gotten information informally about Mr. Chapman, but I have not reviewed what the GBI has provided, so I’m not comfortable commenting on it,” she told Petchenik. “I anticipate I will review it in the near future.”
Penn told Petchenik she doesn’t believe Banks had a right to know about Chapman’s dismissal.
“If Mr. Banks thinks his client was harmed by a delay in receiving information, that he now has and which is questionable as to whether he even was entitled to it, he can file the appropriate motions with the court assigned to the case.”
Petchenik reached out to Chapman through his attorney but didn’t hear back.
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