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SLO County Sheriff on Kristin Smart investigation: ‘This is not a one hour CSI show’

Kristin Smart

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson gave one of his first public interviews Thursday detailing the latest developments in the Kristin Smart investigation.

The sheriff spoke with Country radio station KJUG 98.1 just one day after four search warrants were served in the investigation, including two in San Luis Obispo County. One of the warrants was at the home of Susan Flores. She is the mother of Paul Flores, who was the last person to see Smart alive in May of 1996.

A search warrant was also served in Los Angeles County at the San Pedro home of Paul Flores. He was briefly detained and questioned at his home Thursday morning.

On Thursday, KJUG morning hosts Tom Keffury and Becky Kingman said they had planned the interview with Sheriff Parkinson before the news of the search warrants had surfaced.

They immediately asked about the recent reports that the Smart family was told to to be ready for a major development in Kristin's disappearance. The news was first reported in a Stockton Record article on January 18.

"The family is from Stockton, and they're friends with the reporter," said Parkinson.

The article said a former FBI agent told the family to "be ready" and that they may want to get away for a while.

"I don't know that the story was taken out of context, but the meaning was taken out of context in the sense that, when your daughter has been missing for 24 years... it was his intent to express to the family that when you're searching for 24 years, you have a lot of built up emotion and if something breaks and something changes, he wanted to prepare (them) for how to deal with it," said Parkinson. "The intent is to start thinking about how do you deal with this emotionally if something happens. There was no secret information here."

Tom and Becky also asked Sheriff Parkinson for his take on the 'Your Own Backyard' podcast, which has largely been credited with bringing the Kristin Smart case back into the spotlight.

"You could never have enough publicity on the case because it generates conversation. The idea of a podcast itself is really good. The production is very well done. Chris Lambert does a great job putting it together. The thing I like about it generally is he throws out information and does not necessarily draw conclusions," said Parkinson. "it has generated tips and it has helped, and we agreed to do an interview with him because we believe in what he's doing and why he's doing it."

However, Parkinson acknowledged there are some concerns with the podcast.

"The downside is Chris knows what Chris knows, so there's information out there that's not accurate and that's been portrayed over the years and there's only so much that we can say about it."

Sheriff Parkinson said his department has told Chris to keep asking questions, but then to let the sheriff's office follow up on potential leads.

"They can actually damage a witness by actually suggesting alternatives to the story or introducing facts that a witness subconsciously believes 'oh that must be it.' When we get to that witness, they've already drawn a conclusion," said Parkinson. "We had to have this conversation with him saying please please, give us the information and let us follow it. Don't try to be an investigator. At the end of the day, it's not what you believe, it's what you can prove."

The sheriff said multiple times during the interview that the most important thing in all of this is the Smart Family.

"I have regular conversations with Stan and Denise Smart. I was on the phone with them twice yesterday. At the end of the day, they're the only ones I'm concerned about pleasing with the information. If they're happy with what we're doing and the work we're doing, then that's what's most important," said Parkinson.

During the interview, the sheriff spoke about Wednesday's search warrants, saying he couldn't say specifically what evidence was collected.

He was also asked about the 2016 excavation at the Cal Poly P.

"The areas that we searched, we did not find what we were looking for. it was a pretty significant dig, and it doesn't rule out that location by any means. That particular dig was a delicate one because when you're digging on a hillside, you have to worry about what damage you're causing and it's also high profile up there," said Parkinson. "There are times you want to dig up more, but it's not practical because what do you have that leads you there?"

At the time, the sheriff's office said it had collected remains for further testing, but Thursday the sheriff said they were not human remains.

Parkinson also acknowledged the criticism the sheriff's office has faced for the way it handled the Kristin Smart investigation and said it's easier to be critical in hindsight. He highlighted the significant advances in DNA testing since 1996.

"Every year that goes by it gets better and better and better. Because you test something for DNA today doesn't mean next year that you wouldn't want to go back and look at it again," said Parkinson.

He said his office continues to reexamine evidence in the case because the technology keeps advancing and he said older cases have largely been solved through DNA.

"What we know now, in 10 years is going to look like child's play. Use that to compare to investigative techniques 24 years ago. What they did is different than what we do now and what we have available now," said Parkinson. "It's hard to say going back, 'Hey X, Y, and Z should have been done' because you're applying today's techniques and today's technology."

Parkinson also spoke about last week's decision to notify the public that two trucks belonging to the Flores family were in evidence. The sheriff's office also released updates on other progress made in the investigation since Parkinson took office in 2011.

"A lot of what we have, I can't answer, it would be damaging to the case, but clearly this shows we've put a lot of effort into this case," said Parkinson. "This is not a one hour CSI show. This is real life, and when you're trying to put a case together and determine facts beyond a reasonable doubt, it takes a lot of effort to do, particularly something that happened this long ago."

The sheriff ended the interview, once again emphasizing that the most important people are the Smarts.

He spoke about meeting with Denise Smart recently in Shell Beach and said she spoke to him on the phone Wednesday.

"They felt really good because they felt the passion in the room for the case from everybody... the investigators, obviously me, and that's not something you fake. She's pretty good at seeing that, and to me, that was more important than anything, that she really believes," said Parkinson.

To listen to the full interview with Tom and Becky, click here.

Our newsroom reached out to the sheriff's office and requested an interview with Sheriff Parkinson, but received the following response:

"This was something the Sheriff had planned weeks ago before yesterday's event. While he did talk about the case, it was all information that has already been released to media outlets, so he will have to respectfully decline the invitation."

Tony Cipolla, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office Spokesman
Crime / Offbeat
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Lindsay Zuchelli

Lindsay Zuchelli is the Executive Producer at NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Lindsay, click here.

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