Would-be criminals and their lawyers are waiting with bated breath as the New York Police Department sorts through a mass of evidence contaminated when flood waters poured into two warehouses near the city's harbor.
As Superstorm Sandy roared into the city in late October, the NYPD's evidence depots located in the Red Hook and Greenpoint sections of Brooklyn suffered severe flooding.
In addition to the water damage, at least two areas of the storage facilities may have been exposed to raw sewage, according to NYPD spokesman Paul J. Browne.
Among the evidence are thousands of guns, hundreds of seized cars, and nearly 10,000 barrels containing sensitive DNA material, some of which pertains to ongoing criminal trials.
Police officials have had to testify in at least six criminal trials over the last several weeks in which evidence was inaccessible but still existed, said Brown.
At least one defendant, Manuel Castro, has already been convicted of robbery and attempted assault in a Brooklyn court due in part to testimony allowed by the judge after related evidence was destroyed by the warehouse flooding, according to the New York Times.
Testimony substituting for contaminated evidence is likely to increase in coming weeks, say prosecutors and defense attorneys.
"This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg," warned Steven Banks, chief lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, in an interview with The Times.
In regards to the Castro conviction, Banks said, "We believe the ruling that permitted the evidence to come in was incorrect and we are appealing . . . (the situation is) a recipe for wrongful convictions."
At least 20 police officers and a captain, along with six civilians, have been assigned to recover evidence at the two warehouses.
The NYPD is also considering hiring a private contractor to assist with the cleanup of damaged documents, as the New Orleans Police Department did in the wake of Katrina.
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