1995Public Service

Evidence Supervisor: 'I Screwed Up'

By: 
Melvin Claxton
December 14, 1994,
Part 3

Sgt. Antoinette Jackson

When Sgt. Antoinette Jackson joined the Police Department's Forensics Division, the only training she had in criminal investigations was a home-study course that she paid for herself.

Over the next five years, the only training the department provided her was an FBI course in fingerprinting.

But her lack of preparation did not keep the department from promoting her to the No. 2 spot in Forensics.

Eventually, though, her many evidence mistakes and missteps cost her that job. She believes she is the scapegoat and says the real problem is the department's failure to train and teach officers what to do.

Jackson was transferred from Forensics to patrol duty this August after she neglected to impound a car in which the bodies of two murder victims were found. She left the car at the murder scene, Bluebeard's Beach, for three days even though standard procedure was to have the car towed to the police parking lot the same day for detectives to examine it.

That slip-up got Jackson in hot water with her superiors.

"I got a disciplinary letter and a lot of other negative stuff came out of it," Jackson says. "I know I screwed up. It was my responsibility and I accept that."

But that was not her first problem with evidence. According to police and prosecutors, she has made the following mistakes with evidence:

  • She returned to the owner the only physical evidence in an armed robbery case. Without the evidence, the U.S. Attorney's Office had to drop the charges.
  • She lost a rape evidence kit in a particularly violent case, her supervisors say. Charges against the man accused of the rape where dropped by the U.S. Attorney's Office when the kit couldn't be found. Jackson says it was her boss, Sgt. Liston Gumbs, who misplaced the kit. Gumbs denies that.
  • She was so uncooperative that prosecutors in the Attorney General's Office had to threaten to have her arrested if she didn't produce evidence in Romal Colburne's murder trial.

    Prosecutors and police especially wanted to put away Colburne, whom they labeled a cold-blooded murderer and strong-arm enforcer for his neighborhood drug gang.

    Colburne was on trial for the shooting death of Samuel "Ziah" Clarke. After shooting Clarke -- over $10 that Clarke owed him for drugs -- Colburne went, unperturbed, to Chicken 'n' Ribs for a bite to eat, witnesses said.

    Jackson did not produce the evidence until the day of the trial -- and then only after Territorial Court marshals showed up at her home to arrest her.

  • She mishandled evidence in the high-profile Roberto Smalls case, prosecutors and police brass say. Smalls was charged with shooting Reynaldo James to death Jan. 9, and Jackson was responsible for collecting evidence in that shooting and in the shooting death of Malik Meyers, 15. Not only did the two murders happen the same day, but they also were in the same vicinity.

    Jackson put the evidence in the two cases together as though they were from one case. She says she thought Robbie Smalls was involved in both killings. She says Gumbs, her supervisor, knew she was doing this and gave his OK.

Gumbs says he told Jackson the opposite: Treat the cases separately.

Jackson says: "I spoke with investigators from Major Crime. Nobody ever told me it was two different cases. All I was hearing was, 'You send the case off yet?'"

The FBI asked not once, not twice, but three times before Jackson got it right.

Jackson says she had to go through the entire evidence list and separate it before sending the information back to the FBI.

Smalls was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.