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story.lead_photo.caption Photo courtesy of the City of Bella Vista Former Det. Mike Kugler, whose employment was terminated with the Bella Vista Police Department in connection with evidence mishandling issues.

The Bella Vista Police Department has fired detectives Clayton Roberts and Mike Kugler in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation into evidence mishandling.

Police Chief James Graves said some problems in the department's evidence facility were first noticed Dec. 11, prompting the department to check further.

"There were some additional discrepancies," Graves said.

The department needed an outside look, he said, and talked with the Benton County Sheriff's office. Two outside investigators were brought in Dec. 19, he said, and they identified Kugler, who had worked for the department since 1999, and Roberts, who started in 2005, as being involved in the evidence problems. Both employees were fired Dec. 20, he said.

On the form submitted for personnel change in status that the department filed with the Commission of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, it was indicated that the chief recommended decertification of both detectives.

"They were terminated from employment based on what we saw and code-of-conduct violations," Graves said.

While specifics cannot yet be provided, he said, code-of-conduct violations often have to do with honesty.

Graves said he cannot elaborate on the specific nature of the evidence mishandling because the investigation is ongoing. Often, he said, evidence handling issues have to do with the chain of custody.

Evidence is required to be kept in a tight chain of custody, he said, which is designed to follow standard best practices as well as local and state laws. In this case, he said, a break in that chain was discovered, which led the department to look at who had access to the evidence in question.

Graves said he's proud of his department for being able to discover a problem and resolve it internally in a relatively short span of time.

The detective positions, he said, are likely to be filled by promotion from within the department, which can lead to additional positions opening at the lower level.

The department, he said, will continue working with the sheriff's office to determine the extent of evidence mishandling and how many cases may be affected.

Benton County prosecutor Nathan Smith said that the investigation has two primary aspects -- whether a crime has been committed and whether cases will be affected by the mishandling of evidence.

The Police Department, he said, is doing an internal audit of all evidence to discover all that may have been affected.

"Are there cases out there that Bella Vista has worked that, because of the mishandling of evidence, can't be prosecuted or have to be addressed some other way?" Smith said in explanation.

When the investigation closes, he said, any effects on evidence will need to be disclosed to defendants' attorneys.

It's important to note, he said, that this isn't likely to affect any murder cases. The majority of affected cases, he said, will be drug cases.

Smith said he's glad to see the Police Department working to resolve these issues. Having a problem, he said, shows less than how one responds to it.

"At this point, the criminal investigation is still ongoing ... It's a significant issue that we're going to have to deal with," Smith said. "I think Bella Vista should be commended for being aboveboard about it."

General News on 01/10/2018

Print Headline: Two detectives fired, police department investigating evidence discrepancies

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