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Beckley evidence technician gets probation for pill theft

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The former evidence technician charged with stealing prescription pills from the Beckley Police Department's evidence room was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court.

Judge David Faber placed Gabriella Brown, 31, of Beckley, on four years' probation.

Last year, Brown pleaded guilty to obtaining controlled substances by misrepresentation, fraud forgery, deception and subterfuge.

Authorities said in August, a Beckley police officer stored a container with 59 oxycodone pills and 16 morphine pills in the evidence room and logged it into a database. The officer had received the pills from a local pain clinic, and the pills were counted and noted by a pain clinic employee.

A detective later went to Brown to retrieve the oxycodone pills and counted the contents of the container in front of her. She allegedly told the detective that there were only 37 pills in the container.

The detective, according to court documents, asked Brown, "'Is this it?' She responded, 'This is it.'"

Brown later told authorities that on the following day she had removed the pills from the evidence locker to log the quantity and stole 22 of the oxycodone pills from the container.

Brown went on medical leave shortly after detectives began investigating the missing pills. Beckley Police Chief Tim Deems previously said Brown worked at the Police Department in some capacity for about six years. She was an evidence technician for about 15 months.

After Deems announced that the drugs were stolen from the evidence room, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said she was forced to dismiss drug cases going back 15 months.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration's tactical diversion squad eventually took over the investigation, and Brown resigned after being arrested in connection to theft.

Dwane Tinsley had represented her until he was appointed U.S. magistrate judge for the southern district of West Virginia earlier this month. J. Miles Morgan substituted as counsel.

Brown faced up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Raleigh County Circuit Judge John Hutchison, Brown's father, spoke during the sentencing, a secretary in Faber's office said.

She has said, according to court documents, that she is addicted to opiates and had stolen oxycodone and other prescription pain pills from the Beckley Police Department's evidence room on several other occasions.

In 2011, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced the Bluefield Pill Initiative, to target pill trafficking in Mercer, Wyoming and McDowell counties. The initiative, led by the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, is made up of the West Virginia State Police, sheriffs' departments in the three counties and the Bluefield and Princeton police departments.

"Judge Faber concluded that probation was sufficient. I don't get to decide how defendants are sentenced, and I won't second-guess Judge Faber," Goodwin said in a written statement. "What I can do and will do is continue prosecuting prescription drug crime as aggressively as I possibly can throughout southern West Virginia."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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