GIRARDVILLE — Employees of the State Attorney General’s Office spent more than five hours on Tuesday checking inventory in the Ward’s Police Department’s evidence storage room.
Mayor Judy Melbaum said the four police officers hired last spring following former Mayor Fred Lahovsky’s resignation said the evidence in the room likely had nothing to do with their investigation.
“They didn’t want to be responsible for what was there,” she said.
But late last year, the situation became more urgent as the department was in turmoil over charges between Fabrizio Vivona, who was in charge at the time, and another officer.
In December, the Attorney General’s Office had a district employee secure the room under supervision and hand over the keys to the Schuyl County District Attorney’s Office.
Three state agency officials returned Tuesday to scrutinize evidence including drugs, weapons, clothing, tools used in the crime, forged checks and stolen credit cards.
Acting officer in charge, Lt. Jeremy Taranka, said the inventory will allow current officers to make a fresh start.
“It’s a common practice,” he said, for an outside agency to do the inventory.
Melbaum initially said he had no reason to believe the evidence had been tampered with or removed.
In late 2022, questions arose when evidence logbooks kept at the police station went missing. She said it was unclear whether the book was taken out on purpose or just misplaced.
“I have no proof[that someone stole it]but I know it’s gone,” Mehlbaum said.
The fact that the logbook was lost delayed the inventory.
“They[the Attorney General’s Office agents]couldn’t find any evidence logs, so they couldn’t combine the items,” Mehlbaum said.
On Tuesday the agent did an inventory with no logs.
Mehlbaum described the room as “messy,” but added: These guys just wanted to start with a clean slate. ”
Staff at the Attorney General’s Office were assisted Tuesday by County Sheriff Joseph G. Groody, three of his deputies, and County Detective Sean Butler from the DA’s office to bring the keys.
Groody said county staff were there only to help agents retrieve items to be recorded.
To store evidence while another room was locked, officers used two locked cabinets with separate locks, Taranka said, requiring two people’s authority to open it. A person had to be present. This arrangement was approved by the Office of the Attorney General.
With the inventory complete, Taranka and the other officers can now use the original evidence room.
“We are ready,” Melbaum said Tuesday afternoon. “Now we can start from scratch with the cases they are working on.”
But the Attorney General’s Office still has work to do, she said.
“Some of the stuff there has been[and]there for years,” she said. “They look at them to see if they’re related to an open case.”
She said agents are looking for anomalies in inventory.
Bivona, who was hired in March to replace Lakhovski, was suspended on Dec. 11 for failing to give the mayor the keys to the evidence room, according to a letter from borough attorney Arlen R. Day II.
Another letter from Day said the officer was suspended again on December 30. Serve subpoenas against his fellow officers during his suspension. He falsely claims to be the chief of police. Ignores orders to turn in his badges, keys, and other Borough possessions.
The Borough Council voted unanimously to dismiss him after a two-minute executive meeting on Jan. 11.
Bivona, who did not attend the meeting, denied the council’s accusations.