Friday, July 27, 2012

DEA refuses help in forensic investigation for fear of affront to prosecutors

As part of their investigation of the Austin PD crime lab, the Forensic Science Commission contacted the DEA lab in Dallas to ask them to re-test 23 controlled-substance samples for them. Darrell Davis, the manager of the Dallas lab, was enthusiastic and didn't believe it to be a problem, FSC general counsel Lynn Robitaille told commissioners at their meeting today, but felt he needed to ask permission from his superiors at the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. before he said "yes."

Later, though, the FSC was informed the DEA lab would not perform the testing. When they asked why, the FSC was told that DOJ managers in D.C. feared that, if they found any "discrepancies," it would "put prosecutors in a bad position." Robitaille emphasized that, in this case, the Travis County DA supported re-testing. But it didn't matter. DEA still said no, and refused to give their reasons in writing upon request.

Ultimately, Austin PD agreed to pay for re-testing and the samples were sent to a private Pennsylvania lab. No discrepancies were discovered, but just the risk of an adverse outcome was too much for the DEA.

In the end, none of the samples cited by the complainant which were re-tested came back as errors. The FSC found that one senior APD analyst had routinely reported results without properly documenting the underlying tests. (The analyst called it a "bad habit.") Another person was allowed to change an answer on a proficiency test after the fact (from saying they found no controlled substances to identifying one). Employees should not be performing "tech reviews" of their own analyses, commissioners said, as happened at APD in some cases. (APD said they've discontinued the practice.)

The FSC did not formally find negligence or misconduct at the APD crime lab, but they identified numerous "improvement opportunities" particularly regarding how they document their work. The commission concluded that lab failed to follow protocols that were in place at the time, but the infractions did not rise to the level of negligence because they did not affect the test outcomes. (Basically, the ruling was "no harm, no foul.") The Austin lab will be cited by their accrediting body, ASCLD-LAB, for non-compliance with standards, the commission was told.


Anonymous said...

Ho-hum. When is the Texas FSC up for the Sunset Review?

gravyrug said...

I'd hoped getting rid of Bradley would encourage the FSC to be more proactive. Looks like it'll take more drastic measures.

john said...

Loose thought----yeah, that always clears those in power---just don't put it in writing. The IRS will take everything without due process, but only the final steps will be in writing.
No doubt the feds figure the State has no oversight authority to get them in trouble, plus will always need federally-funded favors?
But as for the State agencies, etc., do the people have any oversight there, or will the "lawyers' union" collude with the Executive, as necessary? If we can't organize to pay off the Legislature, someone else will--and has.

Oh, oh, somebody please pay off CAPTCHA CHA.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Gravyrug, they are doing a better job but the AG opinion Bradley secured before he left radically restricts them. To repeat a comment I made under a prior post:

"From my observation their investigations are exposing the problems, but the AG opinion (and their enabling statute) gave them no teeth and restricted their ability to call a spade a spade.

"FWIW, there will be legislation filed next year to fix some of these jurisdictional limitations. It got almost all the way through the process last time (passed the senate, died waiting for a House floor vote) and I'm optimistic if it passes next year it will solve many of those problems and make the FSC a lot more effective. "

John, at this point I wouldn't turn off the captcha just because I enjoy your various iterations on critiquing it. CAPTCHA CHA, indeed!! However, you should know that the volume of comment spam this blog gets is ENORMOUS. The comments would be all but unreadable if we didn't have it.

PAPA said...

How much did this lab cost TAXPAYERS in criminal justice fees, courts,attorneys, das, jails, prison,wrongful convictions, parole,etc.????

PAPA said...

How much did this lab cost TAXPAYERS in criminal justice fees, courts,attorneys, das, jails, prison,wrongful convictions, parole,etc.????

Wit said...

In the State of Florida the acronym APD means Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Seems the same applies to this APD...

Kelly Williams said...

The particular process of forensic investigation can be hard to dissect sections and items without the need of damaging any proof which may be comprised inside. The individual to record, pile up, as well as preserve proof from the scenario on the disputed occurrence is the forensic engineer.