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Originally published Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 8:07 PM

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Pair hide in trailer, emerge in SPD evidence garage

Police are investigating how a pair of stowaways got into the department’s Airport Way garage, and whether they may have tampered with the evidence stored there.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Detectives wish there had been surveillance cameras to catch the expressions on the faces of the two inadvertent stowaways who crawled out of a stolen trailer to find themselves alone inside the Seattle police evidence garage.

Cameras also could have helped police determine whether the men tampered with any of the vehicles stored there — each a key piece of evidence in a criminal investigation.

In the meantime, police have notified the King County Prosecutor’s Office that the integrity of those investigations may have been compromised if the evidence had been tampered with.

“It doesn’t look like there’s a problem right now, but we’re still investigating,” said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, the department’s spokesman.

A post on the department’s “SPD Blotter” website said there were 10 cars in the holding area, but only six were involved in active investigations.

Whitcomb said any vehicle stored inside the garage was likely evidence “in a more serious case,” but declined Tuesday to elaborate.

Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said the office was awaiting the outcome of the SPD’s investigation before deciding how to proceed. It is possible prosecutors will have to alert the defense attorneys in those cases of the security breach.

The incident March 30 also has the SPD re-evaluating security at the department’s sprawling Airport Way South complex, where the department’s training facility, evidence complex and garage, and SWAT team headquarters are, according to a police department news release.

The department heard rumors of a break-in in May but weren’t able to confirm the evidence garage had been broken into. Or out of, as the case may be.

Whitcomb said that while there are some surveillance cameras at the evidence facility, none were in the evidence garage.

There is no indication the men intended to break into the facility via a “Trojan trailer’ — a term used in the SPD’s account of the incident. More likely, they were sleeping in the trailer when a patrol officer located the stolen truck and trailer and had it towed to the police facility.

The officer did not search the trailer before parking it, apparently waiting for detectives to arrive and do the search. The trailer sat unattended in the storage facility for about 38 hours.

“Think of it like the kid who gets left inside the department store while hiding in a clothes rack,” said Whitcomb.

Detectives have identified the two men, one of whom is in custody for another crime, he said.

It appeared the men had been hiding — and possibly living — inside the 20-foot trailer, which contained mattresses and was strewn with drug paraphernalia and other unidentified “stolen items,” police said.

After finding themselves in the police garage, they apparently sprayed the inside of the trailer with a fire extinguisher in an effort to cover their tracks, then fled through a door, Whitcomb said.

Police did not learn of the invasion until mid-May, when officers heard “rumblings from criminals” that someone might be planning to break into the evidence facility. In fact, the rumors sprang from the two men apparently bragging about their exploits.

Detectives did not confirm the incident until this month and opened an investigation July 9, the department said.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com.

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