OROVILLE — The Butte County Sheriff’s Office now has a new space for evidence seized during investigations as well as a new state-of-the-art morgue facility to keep up with local demand of mortuary service.
Sheriff Kory Honea cut the ribbon Friday morning for the Butte County Sheriff-Coroner Evidence and Morgue Facility, a 10,840-square-foot building for operations relating to active investigations and deaths.
Planning for the project began in 2004 and serious efforts to build the project began in 2015. Honea said in recent years, disasters like the Oroville Dam spillway breaking, the Camp Fire and a number of smaller fires in between impacted.
“I’m very very happy to report that we were able to bring this project in a timely manner — despite the delays — and certainly well within budget, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact we used local architects and local construction firms to help us do that.”
The facility introduces 4,641-square-feet of evidence storage and several new tools for investigators including a high-tech crime forensic laboratory and a rapid DNA processing laboratory.
Honea said the previous evidence building was aging, small, climate control did not work and it had no adequate bathroom or office facilities for staff. Evidence was stuffed into every nook and cranny, Honea said, and security was not adequate. In 2016 a former Sheriff’s Office employee stole evidence and firearms from the building.
“We were able to function and do the things we needed to do out of there, but it certainly wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t sustainable long term which is why we had to move into this facility,” Honea said.
The new facility now has upgraded security with cameras throughout the building with exit and entry logs.
It also introduces a new rapid DNA testing machine that Honea said will help with backlogged investigations that require DNA tests. Honea said testing for DNA by Butte County has historically been sent to the California Department of Justice and results can sometimes be returned after a statute of limitations have expired.
“Because of the backlog, oftentimes you’re only able to get DNA processed on the most serious of crimes: homicides, sexual assault, things of that nature,” Honea said. “Our rapid DNA processing lab that we have gives us the ability to not only use it in coroner’s cases for identification purposes … but beyond than we can now look at the prospect of using DNA to develop investigative leads and crimes other than homicides or sexual assaults.”
In addition to the DNA testing lab, it also has a high-tech crime forensic laboratory used for investigations to track digital fingerprinting of suspected criminals with a warrant from a judge.
The other purpose of the facility is to bring increased capacity for mortuary services in the county. The Butte County coroner is responsible for determining the cause of death for some investigations and — prior to this new facility — have been relying on local mortuaries to do that work.
This facility now supplies 49 spaces of mortuary cooling for corpses and has the capacity to perform five autopsies at the same time. Honea said the facility could possibly alleviate neighboring counties’ demand for mortuary service.
Honea announced at the ribbon cutting that the facility will be dedicated in honor of Lt. Larry B. Estes, who was killed on the line of duty alongside Deputy Bill Hunter on July 26, 2001.