A man who is scheduled to stand trial next year is asking a judge to drop the charges against him because, he says, the sheriff’s department altered evidence that could have proved his innocence.
Sheldon Robert Frank, 45, is charged with two cases of sexual battery based on allegations by two of his employees at a business.
Frank claims that following his arrest, the sheriff’s office seized the hard drive of the business computer that stored camera footage from the business. He said the sheriff’s office had the hard drive for several weeks before producing it to defense counsel. The sheriff’s office claimed the device was blank or that the stored information had been wiped out.
Frank’s attorney, however, took the device to a company that specializes in computer/digital forensics and learned that someone had permanently wiped the hard drive on May 10, 2022, while it was in the custody of the sheriff’s office.
Frank is asking that the court dismiss the cases because the sheriff’s department acted in bad faith in destruction of the evidence on the computer.
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the state to preserve evidence that might be expected to play a significant role in a suspect’s defense.
Further, the clause requires the government to turn over evidence that might aid in a suspect’s defense.
Frank’s attorney, Dustin Phillips, cited cases where police, acting in bad faith, destroyed potentially useful evidence.
“Here, the sheriff’s office’s action deliberately deleted exculpatory evidence,” the defendant claims.
The defendant notes that the sheriff’s office routinely seizes video footage for review and knows how it must be processed. In this case, the office bypassed the safeguards in place to prevent accidental deletion.
This action was bolstered, the defendant claims, by the department lying to defense counsel that the hard drive was blank or had been wiped out.
The defendant also asks the court to order other items of evidence be turned over to the defense, which the department has not yet done.
This includes body cam footage.
District Judge Emily Maxwell said by agreement, she sustained the defendant’s request and ordered the state to either deliver the items requested or to provide a written statement saying those items are not in its possession.
The sheriff must also release Frank’s phone within 10 days.
This isn’t the first time a defense attorney has claimed the sheriff’s office altered evidence in a criminal case.
A Sept. 21, 2020, case against a Garvin man was ultimately dismissed after his attorneys alleged Captain Alicia Manning had altered evidence.
Taylor Tucker faced three felonies for domestic assault and battery by strangulation, assault with a deadly weapon and domestic abuse – assault and battery and Manning was the case agent and investigating officer.
Tucker pled not guilty and maintained his innocence as his attorneys alleged that Manning had altered the alleged victim’s statement and medical records in the case.
The case was set for jury trial in the Fall of 2022, but all charges against Tucker were dismissed on Dec. 14, 2022.