Working together for justice

Fans of police dramas are well aware that a certain amount of friction exists between police officers and prosecutors.

A court hearing last week proves that it's not just a Hollywood stereotype.

Bonnie Roesink, the district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, testified last week that her office and the Craig Police Department mishandled a sexual assault case.

That won't stop the district attorney's office from continuing to prosecute the case, but prosecutors said they won't present blood samples collected from the victim. The police department didn't properly store the evidence, which yielded inconsistent test results.

That's troubling enough. But during the motions hearing to exclude the evidence, Sheryl Uhlmann, the 14th Judicial District public defender, told District Judge Michael O'Hara that the district attorney's office has a history of discovery violations -- that is, not turning over evidence and documents to defense lawyers in a timely fashion.

"I share the concerns about discovery violations," the judge said.

Perhaps even more unsettling was testimony that revealed the Craig Police Department thought the case was too weak to go to trial. Department officials testified that they wrote a letter to Roesink airing their concerns about the case because "at that time" there were communication problems between the two law enforcement agencies.

Despite issuing the letter, Craig police administrators said they've changed their minds about the strength of the case.

What's going on here?

Is there a turf war going on between the Craig Police Department and Roesink's office? During the hearing, the prosecutor assigned to the case, Amy Fitch, grilled Lt. John Forgay about the letter, suggesting the department drew a conclusion about the strength of the case without doing all of its homework. The defense countered by questioning Roesink about her decision to prosecute a case police had no faith in.

Whether this case is an isolated incident or reflective of a bigger rift, officials with both agencies have to understand that their relationship is a key cog in making sure the justice system works.

Roesink, at least, was forthcoming and accepted responsibility for her department's mistakes. We urge officials to hash out their problems and avoid future embarrassing episodes that shake the public's confidence in the legal system.

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