Henry K. Lee
A respected narcotics and robbery investigator who spent nearly 20 years with the Berkeley police pleaded guilty Friday to stealing heroin and methamphetamine from the department evidence locker for his own use.
Former Sgt. Cary Kent tampered with as many as 181 evidence envelopes from criminal cases from as far back as 1998, but authorities were quick to note the cases had been adjudicated and no prosecutions were compromised.
Kent pleaded guilty to grand theft, possession of heroin and possession of methamphetamine after turning himself in earlier in the day to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where he was booked and released. The former investigator, who retired March 14 rather than face an internal affairs investigation, could face up to one year in jail and five years’ probation when Judge C. Don Clay sentences him on May 12.
He declined to comment outside the courtroom Friday, but his attorney, Harry Stern of Pleasant Hill, said his client took “absolute responsibility for his temporary lapse” during a storied career, and his pleading guilty “speaks volumes to his character.”
The attorney said the case underscores the reality that “beneath the badge and the bulletproof vest,” police officers are human beings prone to “the same frailties” as everyone else.
“There was no one hurt at all but Cary himself,” Stern said.
Police Chief Doug Hambleton said Kent acted alone and no other officers have been implicated. He has asked the state Commission on Peace Officers Standard of Training to review the department’s drug handling procedures.
“We are relieved the investigation is concluded, and we have determined that only one officer was involved,” the chief said in a statement. “Now, we can move forward.”
Kent, a former UC Berkeley police officer who will turn 54 this month, was a respected investigator during most of his career.
His reputation began to unravel in September when Lt. Allen Yuen, head of the department’s drug unit, noticed Kent “looked unhealthy, had put on a lot of weight and that his skin often looked gray or pale,” said an affidavit by Alameda County district attorney’s inspector Mark Scarlett.
Yuen also noted that Kent was “always perspiring, causing him to have to change his clothes in the middle of the day due to a reoccurring strong body odor,” Scarlett wrote.
Kent fell asleep at his desk, was late to work, sometimes wore the same clothes he’d worn the day before and failed to finish assignments, the affidavit said.
In December, Kent began to distance himself from other officers on the drug squad, often going into his office and closing the door behind him — an action “uncharacteristic of him,” according to the affidavit.
Kent claimed he had lupus and his medication made him tired, authorities said. But his fellow investigators recognized the behavior as being typical of a drug addict. They grew suspicious because Kent was one of five officers within the department — which has about 200 sworn officers — to have access to the evidence locker.
Investigators began an audit, and preliminary findings showed someone had tampered with, or removed drugs from, at least 15 evidence envelopes.
Hambleton summoned Kent, who agreed to appear if he would not be arrested, the affidavit states. The chief confronted Kent with the preliminary audit results and told Kent he was being placed on paid administrative leave pending further investigation.
Kent, according to the affidavit, told Hambleton, “If you only knew what I was going through, if you only knew the position I was in. I don’t want to be an embarrassment to myself, to the department or to my family. I just want to make it all go away.”
Further investigation brought to 181 the number of envelopes that had been tampered with, and each had been contained in bags that Kent had earmarked for destruction, the affidavit said.