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NYPD Warehouse Fire Jeopardizes Cold Cases, Exonerations

When a massive Police Department warehouse burned Tuesday, troves of evidence gathered over decades disappeared in a towering column of smoke or crumpled into soggy ruin, along with the possibility of justice in untold cases.

On Wednesday, debris scattered outside the Erie Basin Auto Pound, in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, could only hint at the legal significance of what was lost to the three-alarm blaze the day before. The waterfront compound had held everything from souped-up vehicles seized from reckless drivers to forensic fibers from decades-old murders and cold cases.

Now soggy, crumpled boxes bearing fragments of bar codes slumped onto fire-hose-flooded streets. The sooty wreckage included a mélange of sneakers, basketball jerseys and women’s blouses, along with an array of fishnet stockings, panties and bras. Small plastic cylinders containing genetic material lay melted, or broken open and submerged in dirty water.

Fire Department officials said on Thursday morning that the fire’s cause was still being investigated, and officials were still trying to determine how many criminal cases would be affected. It was clear that the ramifications would be significant.

In addition to the property damage, the fire may have destroyed “the hopes and dreams of uncounted innocent people,” said the civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby, who was unsure whether any of his clients’ evidence had been in the warehouse.

Fire officials said everything inside was either lost or damaged. Police officials on Tuesday said the storage center contained items like sensitive DNA evidence from burglaries and shootings, as well as vehicles, motorbikes and e-bikes.

Standing in front of the still-smoldering compound on Tuesday, Jeffrey Maddrey, the Police Department’s acting chief of department, told reporters that the Erie Basin warehouse had housed sensitive DNA material, as well as evidence from past burglaries and shootings, but that it had not stored rape kits, which contain genetic material for sexual assault cases.

Read entire article at New York Times