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An Arkansas Legislative Joint Auditing Committee finding that more than $12,000 and three weapons are missing from a Lawrence County sheriff's office evidence room has spurred an Arkansas State Police investigation.

The audit, conducted for fiscal 2013, reported that $12,544 was missing from the sheriff's office, along with three weapons.

The state began an investigation Feb. 19, 2014, but was "unable to determine a suspect responsible for the missing items," June Barron, a deputy legislative auditor, wrote in her report.

State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Wednesday that he could not comment on the case.

"It's an open investigation," he said. "We are working with Lawrence County on this."

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Yates said he didn't know how the money and weapons were removed from the evidence room. Yates was elected sheriff in November, taking over the position left vacant when former Sheriff Jody Dotson left for another job.

"I haven't a clue how that happened," Yates said. "That was before I got here."

Since he's taken office, Yates limited the number of investigators who have keys to the evidence room, he said.

"Two criminal investigators have keys," Yates said. "I don't have a key. My chief deputy doesn't have a key."

He said he didn't know why the cash was kept in the room. He said he didn't know whether it was money recovered when a Ravenden man was arrested in a 2012 bank robbery in the county.

Dotson did not return a telephone message left on his cellphone Wednesday.

According to the audit, the Arkansas Public Entities Insurance Cooperative issued a check April 8 for $7,855 to Citizens Bank of Batesville for a release of claims the bank filed. Lawrence County deputies investigated a robbery of the bank's branch office in Imboden on July 20, 2012.

A bank camera video of the robbery showed the robber did not use a weapon but jumped over a counter and "started grabbing cash," Dotson said in an interview July 20, 2012.

A Ravenden man was arrested 11 minutes after the robbery, and authorities found a "large sum of money" in his car, Dotson said then.

Lawrence County Justice of the Peace Lloyd Clark said he intends to bring up the investigation at the next Quorum Court meeting.

"All I want to do is make sure there are safeguards," he said. "I've talked with our sheriff, and he seems to have this under control. I just wanted to make sure that things are going to be fixed."

Yates said he has opened several bank accounts to hold any cash deputies may confiscate during investigations.

State Desk on 03/20/2015

Print Headline: Sheriff's office evidence, cash missing, audit shows

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