Tuesday , August 22, 2017 - 11:25 AM1 comment
OGDEN — When E.D. Gallegos started working for the Weber County Sheriff’s office, two of her current colleagues were still in elementary school.
It was 1998, and Gallegos’ husband had passed away the previous December. She was looking for something to keep her occupied. She already volunteered at the Ogden Nature Center, rescuing injured or vulnerable wildlife, but she wanted more. She saw an ad for volunteers in the newspaper, and applied. The opening was described only as a volunteer position with the Weber County Sheriff.
So began what has turned into a unique opportunity for a uniquely suited volunteer. One who’s still at it, 19 years later.
Gallegos knew, vaguely, what crime scene investigation entailed, but when she was assigned to the fledgling unit — the Weber Metro Crime Scene Investigation Unit (CSI) was established in 1992 — she was confronted with a challenge.
It didn’t involve blood or hair or bullet holes, at least not directly. But there were thousands of unsorted “10-print” fingerprint cards. File cabinets in chaos. Years’ worth of photos of scuffed linoleum floors, battered bumpers, specks of paint, broken windows — and no corresponding case file to differentiate one bit of mayhem from the next.
Today, arrestees’ fingerprints are taken digitally and the files kept in a database. But back then, there was only Gallegos and six file cabinets, each five drawers high, and jam-packed. Gallegos got to work.
Sandra Grogan, the CSI unit supervisor, estimates Gallegos personally filed more than 100,000 fingerprint cards.
In doing so, Gallegos became responsible for more than a few arrests. She paid attention, and if two cards were filed that included the same name and date of birth, she inspected them.
“If I filed a card and there was already a card in there with the same name, I would verify — just glancing at it, I’m not an expert — but you can tell when you’ve got ten whole, nice, neat prints, you can tell at a glance whether or not you’re working with the same person,” Gallegos says. “A lot of the guys were using their father’s or their brother’s information to try to sneak through.”
Paul Rimmasch is the unit’s fingerprint expert. He joined Weber Metro CSI a year before Gallegos arrived.
“So many people might have gotten away with using the wrong information, but E.D. caught them,” he said. “And she was never wrong. She nailed it every time.”
She never involved herself in any particular case. She never came across a photo of victim she knew. Over the years, the cases that upset her the most involved animal cruelty.
“It just seems like somebody’s lost a screw or two to do some of these things that you see,” Gallegos says.
Because she is a volunteer, there are things Gallegos is not allowed to access for security reasons, like the evidence room and some computer systems reserved only for law enforcement. But she is in charge of archiving and case management, two complicated processes that were done haphazardly, if at all, until Gallegos came along.
“If I need something that I know is in archive, I don’t touch it,” Grogan says. “I just say, ‘E.D., where is this file?’”
Gallegos doesn’t have a TV or a smartphone. She’s never watched an episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (she says that all she knows is that “it’s not realistic, that’s for sure”). But her old-school ways are like a backup hard-drive for the unit. And she’s territorial, Grogan explains.
“You don’t dare go back to the filing cabinets and file anything yourself, because if you make a mistake, she will catch it and come find you,” Grogan says. “She does not want us touching her files.”
And she maintains a well-stocked candy jar.
Grogan crunched some numbers to illustrate Gallegos’ impact:
On Tuesday, Aug. 22, the Weber County Commissioners honored Gallegos for her years of unpaid dedication with the County Seal of Service award.
Rimmasch jokes that Gallegos is “the Jane Goodall of crazy crime scene people.”
“Have you become more cynical, like us?” Grogan asks her.
“I don’t think so,” Gallegos says. “I hope not, because after all, we’re all human.”
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