Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sloppy practices alleged at Dallas crime lab

A lawsuit has been filed in Dallas by a crime lab employee alleging he was fired for pointing out sloppy practices in the serology lab that could contaminate findings. Reported WFAA-TV:

A forensic biologist who was fired by Dallas County's crime lab said he will file a whistleblower lawsuit against his former employer on Wednesday.

about conditions inside and the overall credibility of the lab.

"I worked there for fourteen months," said Chris Nulf, Ph.D. "I started off in the serology lab which means we analyzed evidence for blood or semen."

Dallas County terminated Nulf in May for insubordination, saying he displayed unsatisfactory progress as a trainee, was unproductive and did not follow procedures at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science, also known as SWIFS.

But in a lawsuit to be filed Wednesday, Nulf says he was terminated for pointing out problems inside the lab, including:

• an outdated protocol manual used by analysts to conduct their daily work

• equipment that isn't calibrated

• analysts using expired chemicals

• criminal case files stored in an unsecured hallway

• a box fan which blew over areas where evidence is examined

"The evidence may have blood flakes on them or hair and fiber on them," Nulf explained. "If you have a box fan going in the background, those fibers could be blown across the evidence, lost forever or cross-contaminated into someone else's evidence."

"From what we've been able to gather, there are high school labs that are cleaner than the lab at SWIFS," added Nulf's attorney, Raul Loya.

Loya said the lawsuit could force the district attorney to review hundreds of cases. "This is evidence that has the power to exonerate a suspect or imprison him for life," he said. "This is a serious matter."

A followup on WFAA includes this quote: "The question is: 'Is this for real?'" asked Gary Udashen a Dallas attorney. "Because if this is for real, it's a big deal." ... "If I'm going to trial tomorrow on a criminal case where there's somebody coming in from this crime lab, then I'm going to use this information for cross-examination purposes and perhaps challenge the admissibility of the crime lab evidence," Udashen said.

Last week I received several emails from an anonymous source that included pictures corresponding to the allegations in this suit, showing, for example, outdated chemicals, the box fan pointing at an evidence table, layers of dust covering areas around a workspace, and a page from an official-looking "corrective action request" stating that the trace evidence lab had been contaminated with blood. I had no context for the information, and didn't even know which lab they were referencing, but this looks to be the related case. Each photo came in an email that stated, "If you can guess what's wrong with this picture, you're one step ahead of the lab Management." Here are some examples:




Time will tell whether this particular case makes, but after Houston's ignominious experience this'll definitely be one to watch.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if SWIFS had a subscription to "The Journal of Irreproducible Results?"

Anonymous said...

I honestly think they make regular submissions, based on those photos- if they're for-real. Man...it's a miracle that they get ANY correct forensics out of that lab if that's what's going on in there.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know OxyClean even had an expiration date.

Boyness said...

First Houston...now Dallas. Watch this one closely.

Anonymous said...

Only liars go to the media before going to court.

gravyrug said...

Anon 4:45, I can think of two good reasons for going to the press before court. One, the problem is one that needs to be addressed immediately, rather than drawn out in court with no fanfare, and two, your opponents have potentially enough influence to manipulate the courts. Both are possible here. It's definitely worth investigating.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this right. This guy is so concerned about dust behind a computer that he can go get a camera, photograph it, and send it anonymously to a blog. Why didn't he just clean it up? Like, wasn't that his job?? This doesn't seem on the up-and-up. Maybe he really is a bozo.

Anonymous said...

The Texas Forensic Science Commission and the Texas Department of Public Safety (Austin) knew about this in March 2008. (Ask them.)

They have had plenty of time to address the problems. Why did it take a lawsuit and news coverage to get people moving? (Are they moving?)

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is a little more than dust my friend. According to the report several critical violations were pointed out:

• an outdated protocol manual used by analysts to conduct their daily work

• equipment that isn't calibrated

• analysts using expired chemicals

• criminal case files stored in an unsecured hallway

• a box fan which blew over areas where evidence is examined

Go read the article again. The Dallas crime lab has a bigger problem than dust behind a computer..

Dallas just can't seem to get their act together can they?

Anonymous said...

This is close to the urinalysis lab in Bexar County. An officer spoke out and was fired. She sued in federal court and the federal judge threw her case out. This judge X. Rodriguez has lost his mind. The judge pretty much stated that anytime you speak about work conditions in a negative light you can and should be fired for insubordination. The ruling is really a shame. This is public money, we all own a little piece of the county facilities and we should be able to speak about the short falls in the work done in the public sector. If you read his ruling it is very sad. He has handcuffed public workers and closed thier eyes and mouth to wrongdoing. I hope it is his loved one that one day gets that false conviction from a bad lab or false urinalysis. What comes around goes around and this federal judge is crazy. I know the officers in Bexar and they say this urinalysis lab is way out of control. Good Luck with the Dallas Lab. My loved one went to jail from a bad urinalysis and I hope it never happens to anyone else!!!