A state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) official was charged Monday in Ramsey County District Court with possessing more than 25 grams of cocaine.
The complaint against David B. Petersen, 46, paints a picture of a man struggling against substance abuse, succumbing to it and then worrying about how to hide it from his peers.
Petersen told investigators that he began stealing cocaine from the bureau's stash last April. That stash is meant for undercover drug buys, the complaint said.
Petersen, one of three assistant lab directors, had unfettered access to the kilo-size bricks in the bureau's crime-scene garage.
Petersen told investigators that in April and again in December he cored out a small amount of cocaine -- about an eighth of an ounce, he guessed -- from the bricks.
Petersen estimated that he took an amount equivalent to two golf balls from a brick he had hidden in a little-used area of the building, the complaint said. Petersen told investigators that he was worried about how to replace the drugs, but in January he thought he got a "gift from God."
The BCA had moved to a new facility in November 2003 and the old building's new tenants called to say that a brick of drugs had been left behind. Petersen told his supervisors about it and set his plan.
When the order came to destroy the newfound brick, he was going to rewrap it in the old brick's packaging, Petersen told investigators. He flushed down a toilet the brick he had previously hidden and kept the wrapper.
But last week a BCA agent reported that Petersen had been making many trips to the storage lockers.
When investigators searched Petersen's home in St. Paul, he showed them the area where he cut the drugs. Investigators found drug residue on the floor nearby, the complaint said.
The complaint suggests that Petersen, who has served as the BCA's assistant lab director since 1998 and has worked for the bureau for 24 years, may be an addict, but stops short of saying so. "Peterson stated that he had been sober for some time, but had begun drinking again," it said.
When Petersen made his first court appearance Monday, his attorney, Mark Larsen, argued that his client was not a flight risk and should be released without bail. He noted that Petersen's wife, two children and a pastor attended the hearing.
Larsen also said what the complaint didn't: "He admittedly has a substance-abuse problem."
Petersen was released from jail on $15,000 bail and conditions that he submit to a chemical dependency evaluation and random drug tests.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Kevin Smith said that the case has changed procedures for allowing access to the lockers.
"The mood around the office is just sheer shock, anger and sadness," Smith said. Colleagues from across the country shared those sentiments.
Earl Wells, who was slated to take over as president of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors in November, spoke somberly about Peterson, whom he replaced Monday.
"This is not the Dave I know," he said. "I don't think you could ask for a more dedicated and hardworking man. This defies my imagination."
Petersen's next court appearance is March 24. He is on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
Larsen, his attorney, said Monday that Petersen and his family were doing well with support from community and church members. "There will be important issues coming out as this case is litigated," he said.
There were no signs at work that Petersen had any kind of addiction, and Smith said investigators don't believe any cases had been compromised.
"The only way we could have known about it is if there were some kind of suspicious behavior," Smith said. "And ultimately, that's what happened."