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Gun missing from police evidence room a mystery

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 18. 2013 9:05PM

MANCHESTER - The search for a revolver discovered missing when the court ordered it destroyed last fall continues, though police suspect it likely was sent to a company that pulverizes unwanted weapons and did not properly record it, the assistant police chief said.

"We don't know if this was human error - that someone didn't document properly, that the weapon wasn't destroyed properly - or if the gun is missing," Assistant Police Chief Nick Willard said in a telephone interview Thursday.

"The most likely scenario, just in my view, is that it was destroyed and wasn't properly recorded," Willard said.

Still, he said the department is actively investigating the weapon's disappearance and is "open to any possibility" of what may have happened to the silver revolver.

"My hope is the weapon still turns up. But, right now, it wasn't where it was supposed to be, which causes us concern. It may very well be here, but it is something we are taking very seriously given our stellar track record," Willard adding, noting the department's high scores in audits of its evidence room required for accreditation.

Police seized the weapon from Christopher Jaskiel, 34, on Aug. 1, 2011, after Jaskiel threatened two people with it near his 44 Notre Dame Ave. home. Jaskiel pleaded guilty to one count of criminal threatening last Sept. 24. Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson sentenced him to a suspended 3- to 6-year prison sentence and ordered Manchester police to destroy the handgun, ammunition, knives and brass knuckles they seized from him.

Willard said police realized the weapon was missing before they moved into their new Valley Street headquarters after Christmas, but did not specify when it was first noticed and reported missing and by whom.

"We were preparing to move. It was realized the weapon wasn't in evidence though we have information that (other) evidence associated with the gun was destroyed," Willard explained.

Handwritten notes on evidence vouchers indicate police destroyed six of the nine pieces of seized evidence on Sept. 26. A notation indicates the ammunition was destroyed Feb. 6. There is nothing to indicate either the handgun - identified as a "Horsely" - or another piece of evidence identified only as "DAF3" was destroyed.

Willard said there are three other possible explanations for the gun's disappearance.

The gun could be lost, he said. Staff searched the old Chestnut Street police station for it without success. They continue to look through evidence boxes to see if it accidentally went into another box while police packed up and moved evidence to the new station.

Willard said he doesn't believe the weapon left the Chestnut Street station. He described the weapon as "pretty shabby." "It's in extremely poor condition. It's not something of value that somebody would want."

Still, he acknowledged, "It's a firearm. You can draw your own conclusions to firearms being out on city streets."

Willard said it also is possible someone assigned to the evidence room accidentally released the weapon to a civilian.

He said officers are retracing all 222 guns returned to their owners in the nine months since Sept. 24. As of Friday, he said officers had contacted all but about 10 of the 111 owners.

"At this point, no one has a gun that is unaccounted for," Willard said.

A handgun was accidentally released to the wrong owner last June, but the error was discovered the same day by evidence technician Judith Routhier, who tried to retrieve it after accidentally releasing it to the wrong person, according to the police report and Willard. Routhier sought Willard's help, who recovered it after reviewing video tapes that confirmed the weapon was given to the wrong person.

Lastly, the gun could have been stolen from the evidence room. Willard considers this the least likely situation,

He said officers took statements from all four sworn and civilian evidence room staff about the possibility the gun may have been taken. All four - Sgt. Stephen Reardon, who was brought in to oversee purging of evidence during the move, Officer Robert Freitas, a special police officer who assisted with evidence purging, and civilian evidence technicians David Dido and Judith Reardon - denied having any involvement in the weapon's disappearance, he said.

"We didn't accuse them of anything," Willard said.

"They have been actively part of the trying to locate the weapon and have been very helpful...They take pride in what they're doing down there. They always have. The fact that there is a missing gun causes them great consternation," he added.

Willard said one one member of the evidence room staff no longer works for the department, but wouldn't discuss details because it is a "personnel matter."

Click here to view the evidence voucher from this case.

Click here to view the original court documents from this case.

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