SALISBURY – An examination of Wicomico County’s criminal justice system is expected to bring forth measures to promote integrity and instill public confidence.
Since August, members of the Prosecution Integrity Unit – a new division within the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office – have been hard at work reviewing misconduct allegations, working through wrongful conviction claims and developing policies and procedures to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system.
Simply put, the Prosecution Integrity Unit has been tasked with examining the system in its entirety, Wicomico County State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes explained. Unlike Conviction Integrity Units – which investigate wrongful conviction claims – she said the new division is tasked with identifying and resolving any issues within the entire prosecution process.
“Number one, we want to ensure that there is integrity within the criminal justice system. But just as important is ensuring the public has confidence in the criminal justice system …,” Dykes said. “We need to be transparent when we can be, and when we make mistakes we need to say so. We need the public’s confidence. Without it, we don’t have much.”
The creation of the Prosecution Integrity Unit came just months after officials began an investigation into an alleged theft at Salisbury Police Department’s storage facilities.
In February, the police department contacted the state’s attorney’s office regarding a potential theft committed by a civilian employee assigned to the department’s property storage facilities. That same month, after concluding the facilities may have been compromised, the office began the process of filing disclosures in every criminal case charged by the Salisbury Police Department that contained evidence held in the department’s custody from April 1997 to February 2020.
To date there have been more than 600 disclosures in both past and pending criminal cases as a result of the storage room investigation, Dykes said.
“There will no doubt be more,” she said. “The big question is how many cases will need to be relitigated, retried. We do think that number is limited, but there are so many factors at play here, so it’s hard to say at this point.”
As a result of the investigation, the state’s attorney’s office began to explore the creation of an integrity unit. In June, county leaders had passed a budget that included funding for new positions within the division. And by August, the Prosecution Integrity Unit was fully staffed.
“It seems to me that this unit and the county’s commitment to this unit as far as funding and creation has really helped us get a jump on dealing with some of these systemic issues that our communities are facing, and gave us a little bit of a lead on that,” she said.
Heading the Prosecution Integrity Unit is Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Gilbert, who is joined by prosecutor Lauren Bourdon – a certified fraud examiner – and investigator Tracy Majors.
Since the team’s formation, members have worked with the Maryland State Police and Salisbury Police Department to correct deficiencies identified in the storage room investigation.
And in addition to handling cases of alleged misconduct and claims of wrongful conviction, Dykes said the team is working to identify institutional issues, build an internal system of proper checks and balances and provide prosecutors and law enforcement officers with the best training and education regarding ethical obligations.
“We want to ensure the integrity of the entire process, and in order to do that you have to be open enough to look at the entire process and engage with law enforcement agencies,” she said. “So much of the onus is on those agencies because it is the information we receive from them that forms the basis of everything we do.”
Team members have also met with the Eastern Shore delegation to discuss proposed legislation that would not only impact public safety, but the work of the Prosecution Integrity Unit and the state’s attorney’s office.
“That’s an example of additional things that they are doing …,” she said. “It’s difficult for those prosecuting homicides and robberies every day to spend that attention and time and resources on those sorts of things.”