Cop resigns in evidence mishandling case

ALBANY — An officer of the Albany Police Department has resigned from the force, just ahead of a recommendation for termination by Police Chief John Proctor and the initiation of an investigation by Internal Affairs.

According to the recommendation, which was issued Aug. 22, items belonging to the APD had been discovered in a local storage facility rented privately by then Cpl. Darrell Laster, a criminal detective with the APD.

Included in those items were APD uniforms and items of property and evidence from cases to which Laster had been assigned “over a number of years.” The items had been discovered by the owner of the storage unit, the recommendation reads, when Laster defaulted on his payments for the unit.

The termination document further contends that Laster had admitted his failure to properly log in the evidence with the APD, or properly organize the incomplete case files found for approximately two to three years after they were marked as “completed.” The document refers to Laster’s actions as “mishandling of property and evidence.”

In a second section of the recommendation for termination, it notes several other disciplinary actions were applied to Laster by the APD “within the last three years.”

In the final section of the termination document, Laster was advised that the final decision regarding his employment would be made by the Albany city manager, James Taylor, and that Laster retained the right to, within 10 days, request a meeting with the manager. However, one day before the termination document was issued, on Aug. 21, Laster submitted his voluntary resignation.

“My responsibility as Chief of the Albany Police Department is to maintain prescribed standards and to preserve the professionalism of the Department,” stated APD Chief John Proctor in media release. “Furthermore, I have a duty to hold officers accountable for following all policies and procedures. I am committed to the citizens of Albany to do just that.”

Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards confirmed that some of the evidence found in the storage facility pertained to the murder investigation of 19-year-old Sentos Vicente in 2010, a case that Laster helped investigate. One of the accused in that case, Anthony Hill, pleaded guilty to killing Vicente and testified against his co-defendant, Santarious Nelson, in court. Nelson was found not guilty.

On Thursday, Edwards said evidential items found in the storage unit clearly had no affect on the Vicente case. As for other, potentially tainted cases, Edwards said the misplaced items were still being evaluated and their affects would be judged “on a case-by-case basis.”

“Fortunately, the outcome of the Vicente case was not adversely affected by this (discovery),” Edwards said. “All the cases this situation may have touched will be reviewed on an individual basis.”