JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Action News is uncovering new details of police mishandling evidence in a local case.
Samuel Whitaker is on trial, accused of beating his girlfriend. But it wasn't long inside the courtroom before it seemed the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office should have taken the stand instead.
“You'll hear a lot of criticism about the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, and some of it is right, some of it is correct,” said state attorney Alan Mizrahi.
Samuel Whitaker is defending himself on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Whitaker says a metal stick someone else used to beat his girlfriend disappeared.
This month marks two years behind bars for Whitaker. His sister told Action News' Ryan Smith that she's frustrated. She believes police botched a key piece of evidence she says could prove her brother's innocence.
“If they had it, it could prove that somebody else committed this crime because my brother's fingerprints would not be on this alleged metal stick,” said Gail Lockley.
Whitaker addressed the jury for about 20 minutes during his opening argument. "Where is the pipe? They can't produce it. They can't produce the pipe."
The prosecuting attorney says this isn't a shining moment for the JSO. Mizrahi told jurors two officers who examined the crime scene failed to direct an evidence technician to collect the metal stick. The evidence was never entered into JSO’s property room.
“Mess up? Absolutely,” said Mizrahi. “Should the police had done a better job? No one disputes it."
Action News asked JSO about the issue. A spokeswoman said it was a lack of communication.
“The officer on scene thought the ET who was assigned to take the photographs of the victim was going to handle it, and the ET was never made aware there was a pipe to be processed,” said public information officer Melissa Bujeda.
Bujeda said that once the assistant chief determined what happened, the issue was discussed with the officer.
This is the second case in which JSO admitted to botching evidence. Robert Lewis also faces charges of aggravated battery.
Lewis was severely beaten with a metal pipe which was eventually destroyed by JSO.
A sergreant with the Sheriff’s Office admitted he lied to an assistant public defender during the investigation.