FLORENCE, Ala. - Florence Police have arrested one of their civilian employees. Lauren Ezell is accused of mishandling narcotics evidence.
Chief Ron Tyler says he received a tip about the inappropriate actions in November of last year. "Due to the serious nature of the allegations, Mrs. Ezell was immediately placed on administrative leave with pay," states Tyler.
He also contacted Sheriff Rick Singleton with Lauderdale County to assign someone to investigate.
The investigator assigned began looking into the matter and asked for two Huntsville Police Officers to conduct a full audit of evidence house in the Florence Police evidence vault. Tyler says that took several weeks and the officers audited nearly 9,000 pieces of evidence.
As a result of their findings, and as a result of Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department's criminal investigation, the case was presented last week to the Lauderdale County Grand Jury. The Grand Jury returned an indictment against Lauren Ezell for 118 counts of Theft 2nd and 1 count of attempting to commit a controlled substance crime.
"I take the conduct of our officers and civilian employees very seriously," says Tyler. "Any misconduct from our employees threatens to betray the trust the public chooses to place in us. However, our employees are people and sometimes people make very poor decisions."
Tyler goes on to say they take all allegations seriously, to the point of requesting another agency's help and opening a criminal investigation. "We are not above the law. We are entrusted to follow and enforce the law. I am both embarrassed and disgusted by this case," says Tyler. "Embarrassed, because it is my responsibility to ensure this kind of incident never occurs. And in this case, I didn't ensure the job was done properly. I am disgusted at the conduct that led to the investigation and what has ultimately led to the indictments.
He says checks and balances were in place, but gaps in the process were exploited. The investigation exposed those gaps, which have now been closed. New and more stringent practices have been put in place. "Moving forward, we are doubling our efforts to ensure this type of incident never duplicates itself again," says Tyler.
Tyler says he can't release specific details about the evidence involved, but states the 118 counts represent each piece impacted. He also wants the public to know that an "overwhelming majority" of the cases had already be adjudicated and the evidence was set to be destroyed.
Ezell has submitted her resignation and is no longer an employee of the police department. She surrendered to authorities yesterday. Ezell was booked into the Lauderdale County Detention Center where she was released on a $179,500 bond.