For nearly a year, the Lilburn police department allowed an officer who colleagues say exhibited slurred speech, odd behavior and a disregard for basic police procedures to stay on the job and oversee the department’s evidence room.
It wasn’t until a fellow officer told a supervisor he believed investigator Kim Banks was stealing drugs out of the evidence room that Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley took Banks off the streets. Banks resigned in February. She’s under investigation by the Gwinnett County district attorney’s office — a probe that could cast doubt on pending drug cases.
Banks has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has told investigators she did not steal drugs. Reached by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she referred questions to a lawyer, who did not return calls.
Any time a police officer is accused of breaking the law, it can compromise any cases the officer worked on. The potential fallout from this case is greater because Banks supervised the evidence room. Lilburn police reported about 70 drug crimes during the period when colleagues or supervisors say she acted erratically.
Gwinnett County District Attorney’s office investigators have already found several cases with missing drug evidence, according to police records.
“If those drugs aren’t there anymore or if part of them are missing, then they’re going to have a hard time prosecuting those kinds of cases,” Gwinnett defense attorney Christine Koehler, a past president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said.
Gwinnett DA Danny Porter said it’s too soon to tell whether any cases could be affected.
“It’s too early for defense attorneys to break out the brass band and have a parade,” he said. “There may come a day when that happens, but it’s not today.”
Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley declined to discuss Banks’ case. But in a written statement he said, “I would never knowingly allow an employee to remain in an active sworn position unless they were determined to be fit for duty.”
Banks’ supervisors first questioned whether she was capable of doing her job in March of last year, personnel records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under state open records laws show.
- In March, Chief Hedley and other supervisors noted Banks’ slurred speech and her “almost incoherent appearance” at times. When Banks, then a 12-year department veteran, arrived at a scene where an officer shot a suspected shoplifter, she seemed confused about how to conduct an investigation, according to personnel records.
- In May, evidence technician Ron Jones, whom Banks supervised, suspected her of stealing generic Xanax from the department’s evidence room, according to police records. Jones didn’t report his suspicions at the time because he didn’t want to second-guess his supervisor, he later said.
- In November, Banks ignored basic police procedures during a routine traffic stop, Capt. Thomas Bardugon wrote in personnel file memos. Colleagues noted her mood changed frequently, and she didn’t complete basic supervisory tasks like turning in time sheets correctly or checking the work of the officers under her.
- At some point in 2013, department records show Banks told supervisors she was taking prescription drugs similar to those she is accused of stealing. Jones said he noticed signs suggesting someone was rummaging through drug evidence bins.
Chief Hedley put Banks on an “improvement plan” with closer supervision, which she completed in July. But by the end of 2013, Chief Hedley put her on another improvement plan, writing in a memo he had “great concern for [Banks’] well-being” and questioned whether she was “fully capable of performing the duties of Senior Investigator.”
She stayed on active duty until February 2014 when Jones, the evidence technician, told a supervisor prescription muscle relaxers were missing from the evidence room. Banks and Jones were the only ones with access, according to police records.
During an interview with county investigators, Banks pulled tablets she said were some of the missing ones from her purse. And investigators found empty drug evidence bags in Banks’ desk, according to police records.
In an internal affairs interview, Banks said the drugs ended up in her purse because of “sloppy police work.” Not so, Bardugon told Banks during the interview, according to a recording.
“That is a straight-up absolute violation of policy,” he said. “It’s criminal action.”
He told Banks she needed to get professional help.
“You are ignoring the reality that you have a substance abuse problem.”