Former State College officer charged in police department evidence theft

Former State College police officer Thomas Dann, seen here in 2005, was charged Monday with tampering with and stealing drug evidence.
Former State College police officer Thomas Dann, seen here in 2005, was charged Monday with tampering with and stealing drug evidence. CDT file photo

Charges were filed Monday against a former State College police officer accused in May of tampering with and stealing drug evidence.

Thomas Dann, 56, of Bellefonte, faces 23 counts each of two different drug charges, 14 counts of evidence tampering and a theft charge, according to court documents filed Monday at District Judge Allen Sinclair’s office.

Dann started with the force in 1988 and rose to the rank of sergeant, State College Police Chief Tom King said. His employment with the borough ended Friday, King said.

According to the criminal complaint, state police investigators from the Hollidaysburg barracks suspect that Dann tampered with 23 evidence packages containing 1,265 grams of cocaine from 14 State College police investigations, just less than 2.8 pounds of the drug, and took 123 oxycodone, 88 OxyContin and seven hydrocodone tablets from the room.

Although Dann took over as an evidence custodian in August 2013, King said the tampering is thought to have started in spring or summer of last year.

King announced in early May that the department suspected an officer of stealing from the evidence room and that he had referred the matter to state police for a criminal investigation. Dann’s identity was previously withheld pending the completion of the investigation and filing of charges.

State College police learned of the possible evidence tampering about a week before that, when Dann was suspended over an “unrelated matter” and escorted from the property, according to court documents filed Monday. Dann asked another officer to grab a set of tools from his desk, and the officer reportedly discovered drug evidence envelopes that appeared to be have been unsealed, according to the documents.

Dann was on paid leave from April 22 until Friday because the department is contractually obligated to pay officers until wrongdoing is corroborated or charges are filed, King said. Dann has had no access to police facilities or systems since being placed on leave.

King declined to comment Monday on the issue that led to Dann’s suspension, citing an ongoing internal investigation.

In an interview with state troopers last week, Dann said he starting taking the substances because of pain from recent surgeries, according to court documents.

King said the surgeries were not work-related.

Dann also reported to investigators that he replaced the pills he had taken with items like Tylenol and vitamins and replaced cocaine with baking soda, according to court documents.

King said the weight of the cocaine listed in the court documents was the amount in the opened packages and that there’s no way to know how much was actually taken because small amounts were taken at a time and then replaced, he said.

Earlier this month, King said, state police and State College police completed an audit of the evidence room and determined that the majority of the drugs were taken from closed cases and were awaiting destruction at an incinerator on the Penn State campus. The audit concluded that non-drug-related evidence, such as guns and money, had not been tampered with.

King said the incident came as “an absolute shock” from day one and said that most people who worked with or for Dann throughout his career would feel the same way. Dann served as supervisor of the traffic department, and King pointed to the fact that Dann held leadership positions and was trusted with evidence as proof of the type of officer he was.

“No one would have predicted this situation would have happened with him,” King said.

King said he recognizes and appreciates the quick and thorough response from state police when he requested their assistance.

He said he also understands the incident will affect public trust in the department but asked the public to look at the department’s history as professionals and the way the situation was handled.

An outside agency was brought in to investigate, charges were filed, the suspect’s employment was ended and the matter was made public in an effort to be as transparent as possible until those charges were made public, he said.

“I think that’s what people should expect from a professional police force,” King said.

A preliminary hearing date and an attorney for Dann were not listed on the court documents.