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Wayne County officers never collected critical evidence from 400+ criminals, until now

Sheriff's office working to 'right this wrong'
Posted: 4:15 PM, Oct 29, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-29 22:49:40Z

Law enforcement throughout Wayne County failed to collect critical DNA evidence from over 400 criminals—many convicted of dangerous and assaultive crimes—in violation of state law. 

As a result of a 7 Action News investigation, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and 42 other police agencies are pursuing the evidence that should have been collected all along.

“I’m very concerned when we miss one,” said Assistant Chief James White, the second in command at the Detroit Police Department. “And if we miss one, that could result in some very serious consequences.

DNA swabs, also known as buccal swabs, are required by state law to be submitted by any defendant convicted of a felony as well as a handful of misdemeanors. 

The samples are entered into the state’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, and run against DNA submitted from past crimes that remain unsolved.

DNA swabs have helped police catch scores of rapists and killers through the years. In fact, that’s how police caught the man suspected of sending 13 mail bombs to political leaders just last week.

“If we can get it in the system as quickly as possible, there’s always the potential that maybe a crime is waiting to be solved that could be solved,” said Dan Pfannes, Wayne County’s undersheriff.

A year-long investigation by WXYZ first revealed that nearly 100 convicted criminals failed to have DNA samples collected in a five-month period.  

Since then, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office conducted an exhaustive review of another year’s worth of inmates, determining that at least 425 samples should have been collected but never were.

Criminals whose DNA was missed include:

-At least a dozen men and women convicted of felonious assault or assault with intent to do great bodily harm.  

-Kevin Smith and Wilson Boyd, both guilty of assault by strangulation.

-Michael Williams, who committed criminal sexual conduct in the third degree. His victim, according to the warrant: physically helpless or mentally incapacitated.

-Laron Walker; convicted of armed robbery, attempted murder and more.

Last year, Walker kidnapped an elderly man, robbed him, took him hostage, then robbed a Detroit CVS. When police arrived, he tried to kill them.

“The suspect turned, fired shots at the officers. The officers returned fire,” Asst. Chief Arnold Williams told reporters the day of the shooting.

Walker pleaded guilty to 28 different felonies, but his DNA was never collected.

Dan DiBardino knows firsthand the value of DNA.  As President of Crime Stoppers of Michigan, he has seen killers or rapists brought to justice thanks to DNA evidence.

“These are terrible crimes. DNA should have been taken,” he said. “It doesn’t help the families who stand in this room crying as to who hurt or murdered their family.”

For months since our initial investigation, Wayne County Undersheriff Dan Pfannes has led a county-wide effort to assure collection of the 425 missed swabs, while still determining how many other convicted criminals slipped through the cracks.

He faulted bad assumptions made among police and deputies, who may have thought a DNA sample had been taken upon arrest or would be taken at the time of conviction.

“Now there’s communication between the left hand and the right hand about what’s going on,” Pfannes said, adding that court orders have been issued, allowing deputies to collect the missing samples.

Pfannes and his staff have been conducting audits of every inmate to walk through Wayne County’s jails dating back the last three years.

Today, they’re about halfway done.

“We are trying to right what was wrong,” he said, “irrespective of who was a part of this systemic failure.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.