Murder-suicide investigation was early test for new Cottage Grove public safety facilityPolice used the new building to investigate the shooting in the hours and days after the Oct. 25 shooting. They said it provided a place to stage nearly a dozen witnesses before they were interviewed individually and offered a secure location to store two vehicles hauled from the scene as evidence. Also, a dramatically improved evidence storage system helped to properly prepare smaller items from the scene for processing.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Cottage Grove police for years sought a new facility because they said their existing department lacked adequate space for patrol officers, investigators, evidence and witness interviews.
They got all of that in the new Cottage Grove City Hall, but did not expect that a murder-suicide would test the new facility before officers had officially moved in.
Mere hours before police were to set up in their new offices last month, 22-year-old Chevel Richard chased down his wife, Tensia Martinez Richard, in a Cottage Grove parking lot and gunned her down in a sandwich shop before turning the gun on himself.
Police used the new building to investigate the shooting in the hours and days after the Oct. 25 shooting. They said it provided a place to stage nearly a dozen witnesses before they were interviewed individually and offered a secure location to store two vehicles hauled from the scene as evidence. Also, a dramatically improved evidence storage system helped to properly prepare smaller items from the scene for processing.
More than a dozen people were nearby when police say Chevel Richard opened fire, first in the Gateway North parking and then inside the Jimmy John’s restaurant. After the mid-afternoon shooting, officers talked to some witnesses at the scene but also brought 11 people to the new public safety facility to record statements.
Those witnesses waited in the new City Council chambers before sitting alone with investigators to talk about what they saw. Typically, witnesses would wait in a conference room or small office, but there were not enough of those set up because police were to start moving into the new building the day after the shooting, police Capt. Pete Koerner said.
Still, he said, the new building provided a quiet place for witnesses to wait before talking with investigators.
“They just went through a very traumatic experience with what they saw,” Koerner said.
The new building has enough space to better handle a large group of witnesses, and there are designated witness interview rooms right off the entrance to the public safety area at City Hall.
The lower level of City Hall — home to key law enforcement resources — also proved helpful in the investigation, police said.
Tensia had driven her car to the Anytime Fitness in the Gateway North strip mall before the shooting. Police say Chevel drove his own vehicle to confront his estranged wife. After police and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension processed the crime scene, both vehicles were taken to the new public safety headquarters, where there is a designated evidence garage large enough to store up to three vehicles.
The space can be separated into smaller cages to protect “the integrity” of evidence, Koerner said. Police can monitor anyone who enters the indoor vehicle storage area with an electronic key access log.
“We were able to secure them in our evidence bay to be processed, and photographed,” Koerner said, later adding: “If it’s in there, then you’re not worried about it being contaminated.”
The investigation found that Tensia’s car had been struck by one bullet from Chevel’s handgun, Koerner said.
In the old public safety headquarters on 80th Street, officers used an indoor vehicle wash bay to store a car or truck being held as evidence. They would string crime tape across the entrance. If there were more than one vehicles being held as evidence, they may use spots usually occupied by squad cars or store evidence vehicles at a city impound lot.
The evidence room at the old headquarters was about 8 feet by 8 feet and lacked space to analyze and package evidence, such as clothing from a crime scene.
Police brought bloodied clothing from the scene of the shooting to the new facility, where it was dried and packaged in a space specifically designed for evidence handling. That is important for preventing any evidence contamination, Koerner said.
“A lot of times items like that on a major scene, because we didn’t have the capabilities to dry it, we’d have to have the BCA process it” at a different location, he said, adding that the new facility means less need to transport evidence. “It’s one less step to go back and forth.”