The Texas Forensic Science Commission voted unanimously Friday to open an investigation into two complaints about the Austin Police Department crime lab's testing of drug evidence.Lindell goes on to give topline accounts of the specific complaints being investigated, but the most interesting to me were allegations of "drylabbing" preliminary reports. The Austin PD crime lab told the Commission that retesting in one case out of the 23 identified by Ms. Stephens found a substance originally reported that was not there on retesting, but said it didn't affect the outcome of the case. The Commission will have to get to the bottom of that dispute. Stephens told Lindell otuside the meeting that the error "led to a charge being dropped." "I'd call that impacting the outcome of the case," she told him, alluding to discussions over the Commission's narrow definitions of negligence and misconduct.
A three-member subcommittee will lead the investigation — holding meetings that will be open to the public — and report its findings to the full commission, which will conclude the case with a written determination.
The state commission, which investigates allegations of negligence or misconduct involving forensic labs, set no deadlines during Friday's meeting in Austin.
One complaint against the Austin police crime lab was filed by another facility, Integrated Forensic Laboratories in Euless, which questioned testing results or procedures used on evidence in three cases in which it followed up on work by the Austin lab. ...
The second complaint was filed by Debra Stephens, a scientist who worked for several years at the Austin crime lab until she was fired last year.
One tidbit Chuck mentions only in passing deserves more explication. It came out in the discussion that, during the period under review, Austin crime lab workers would simply record results on scraps of paper - often sticky notes - then throw the only original documentation away after performing a test, merely entering the results into the computer system. In one instance, documentation provided by Ms. Stephens showed lab tests continued to be run six minutes after a preliminary report was issued to law enforcement. According to DPS, the practice did not meet ASCLD/LAB standards (they cited the specific regs, but I didn't jot them down), and APD said it changed protocols to eliminate the practice of issuing preliminary reports. They now require testing to be completed before reports are issued, though you'd kinda think that should have been obvious in the first place.
Another interesting allegation against APD came from a private crime lab in Tarrant County (the same one whose director is serving half-time overseeing the El Paso lab) involving whether to classify a substance as "marijuana" or as "THC" found in a substance "other than" marijuana, which receives a higher penalty. A rep from the
Obviously, Grits will continue to track this subject as the FSC inquiry moves along.