Years Of NYPD Evidence Destroyed In Mystery Fire

( A massive Police Department warehouse burned Tuesday, destroying decades of evidence and the possibility of justice in untold cases.

The day after the three-alarm fire in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, debris outside the Erie Basin Auto Pound hinted at the legal significance of what was lost. The waterfront compound held everything from cars seized from reckless drivers to forensic fibers from decades-old murders and cold cases.

Genetic material was in melted or broken plastic cylinders in dirty water.

On Thursday morning, Fire Department officials were still investigating the fire’s cause and determining how many criminal cases were affected. The effects would be significant.

Ron Kuby, a civil rights lawyer, said the fire may have destroyed “the hopes and dreams of uncounted innocent people” and property.

Firefighters said everything was destroyed.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey Maddrey, the Police Department’s acting chief of department, told reporters that the Erie Basin warehouse had stored sensitive DNA material and evidence from past burglaries and shootings but not rape kits.

Mr. Kuby called the recent destruction of forensic evidence, from genetic information on clothing to paper trial transcripts, “catastrophic” for appeals and exoneration claims.

He said that forensic evidence from years ago had been destroyed. “This can destroy someone’s freedom and hope.”

“People’s lives depend on this evidence,” said Manhattan civil rights lawyer Debra Cohen.

Losing physical evidence can also hurt a prosecutor. Robert J. Masters, retired chief counsel to a former Queens district attorney, said showing a jury a knife from a homicide scene is powerful.

He said losing drama weakens his case. We lost the exhibit, which could sway a jury.

Vanessa Potkin, the director of special litigation at the Innocence Project in New York, which specializes in exoneration cases, said, “The ability of wrongfully convicted and imprisoned people in New York City to prove their innocence literally went up in smoke with this fire.”

“We expect the NYPD and district attorneys to provide us a full accounting of the damaged evidence and to immediately inform defense counsel about specific cases that may have been impacted,” a nonprofit Legal Aid Society spokesman said.

Firefighters are still putting out hot spots, which may prevent investigators from entering the warehouse for several days.