OROVILLE – The Butte County Sheriff’s Office now has new space for evidence seized during inquests as well as a new state-of-the-art morgue to meet local demand for mortuary services.
Sheriff Kory Honea cut the ribbon Friday morning for the Butte County Sheriff-Coroner’s Evidence and Mortuary Facility, a 10,840 square foot building for operations related to active investigations and deaths.
Planning for the project began in 2004, and serious efforts to construct the project began in 2015. Honea said that in recent years, disasters such as the Oroville Dam spillway rupture, campfire, and a certain number of smaller fires had an impact.
“I’m very, very happy to report that we were able to complete this project on time – despite the delays – and certainly on budget, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we used architects locals and construction companies to help us do this.
The facility features 4,641 square feet of evidence storage and several new tools for investigators, including a high-tech forensic lab and rapid DNA processing lab.
Honea said the previous evidence building was aging, small, the air conditioning didn’t work, and there was no adequate bathroom or office space for staff. Evidence was stuffed into every nook and cranny, Honea said, and security was inadequate. In 2016, a former employee of the sheriff’s office stole evidence and firearms from the building.
“We were able to operate and do the things we needed to do from there, but it certainly wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t sustainable in the long run, which is why we had to move into this facility,” Honea said.
The new facility has now improved security with cameras throughout the building with exit and entry logs.
It also introduces a new rapid DNA testing machine which Honea says will help pending investigations that require DNA testing. Honea said DNA tests by Butte County have always been sent to the California Department of Justice and results can sometimes be returned after a statute of limitations has expired.
“Because of the backlog, you can often only get DNA processed for the most serious crimes: homicides, sexual assaults, things of that nature,” Honea said. “Our rapid DNA processing lab that we have gives us the ability not only to use it in coroner cases for identification purposes…but beyond that we can now look at the possibility of using the to develop investigative leads and crimes other than homicide or sexual assault. .”
In addition to the DNA testing lab, it also has a high-tech forensic lab used for investigations to track the digital fingerprints of suspected criminals with a warrant from a judge.
The other purpose of the facility is to increase capacity for mortuary services in the county. The Butte County Coroner is responsible for determining the cause of death for certain inquests and, prior to this new facility, relied on local morgues to do this work.
This facility now provides 49 mortuary cooling spaces for corpses and has the capacity to perform five autopsies at the same time. Honea said the facility could potentially alleviate demand for mortuary services from neighboring counties.
Honea announced at the dedication ceremony that the facility will be dedicated in honor of Lt. Larry B. Estes, who was killed in the line of duty alongside Deputy Bill Hunter on July 26, 2001 .