Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Scandal in the San Francisco Crime Lab

$140K machine not helping SF DNA crime lab

I thought this was interesting, with all of the emphasis on the backlog of DNA testing. The title is misleading, as there are actually 2 of those machines sitting idle. However, what really caught my attention was the confusion on which crime lab processed the DNA identification of Laci and Conner Peterson. The TV reporter was denied access to the crime lab to do this story, but the article says:

[Cmdr. Denise Schmitt] did say ABC7 was not allowed into the crime lab to see the machines because she said the lab is too sensitive.

However, ABC7 reporter Heather Ishimuru was allowed in the crime lab and given a tour of the facility back in 2003. The case that occupied the crime lab back then was the Lacy Peterson murder case. The Scott Peterson trial was one of the most sensational trials in the city's history.


The DNA crime lab that processed the DNA for Laci and Conner Peterson is the Richmond DNA lab in Richmond CA. Didn't the author of this article know that? Part of the video included in the article is of the Richmond crime lab, located in Richmond CA, I assume, not the SF crime lab, which, of course, is located in San Francisco. A quick check with Heather Ishimuru confirmed that she visited the SF DNA lab in 2003 on a case not directly related to the Peterson case.

The SF crime lab has been reeling from another scandal. San Francisco Crime Lab Scandal Growing, Thousands Of Criminal Cases May Be Dismissed

These cases have to do with the drug unit of the SF crime lab, in which Deborah Madden, a criminalist, is accused of skimming cocaine from the crime lab.

The fallout from San Francisco's lab scandal is still unfolding and experts say it could take years to clean up, especially if authorities fail to establish which criminal cases were compromised.

"I don't think we have a full grasp on the magnitude of this yet," said Jim Norris, former head of the lab. "A lot of this runs on trust that the lab results have been correct, but now people don't think they are. So the whole system has grinded to a halt."

Madden's attorney, Paul DeMeester, said last week that her February talk with police was honest and forthright, and she "talked about all of the wrongdoing she had committed at the lab, which is very minimal."


"And it will take years for the people in that lab and the San Francisco Police Department to come back from that, even if it's one person," Inspector Peter Walsh told Madden on the tape. "If it's a mistake, you just need to tell us it's a mistake."

"I didn't do it," she said, admitting only to snorting small amounts of cocaine spilled on her work station.

The drug unit employed Madden, two other criminalists and a supervisor.

But according to another article in the Deseret News, the problem goes much deeper than Madden.

The lab had at least three technicians working there between July and December, each handling about 5,000 to 7,000 cases a year. The state's average is slightly more than 1,000 cases per year, the report said.

Gascon said the department will hire at least six more technicians to decrease the workload.

The report also found that technicians often left drug evidence in unsecured boxes or lockers ripe for possible theft, and technicians did not record when they may have reopened evidence sampling. The lab also failed to calibrate scales used for weighing drugs, the report said. In a criminal case, the weight of the drug can result in a greater or lesser sentence.

1 comment:

Burkey said...

crime labs using the "trust system" for storing mind-altering drugs are asking for it, imo.

i mean, common sense, folks. it's like asking kids to work in a candy store. supposedly most people aren't kids, but they're all young at heart sometimes. ;0