Critics, including some of the nation's forensic scientists, say "not so fast."
"They are going to do a commendation to the lab for doing its job -- for doing the bare minimum?" said Amy Driver, a forensic scientist in Washington, D.C., who hosts a blog on the forensic science community.Grits can see both sides of the question: On one hand, labs are in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. You want agencies to self report when something goes wrong and it would be unfortunate if doing so means the good actors are punished more than those who conceal problems. OTOH, the FSC's fulsome praise of the Tarrant ME may stem to some degree from deference on the panel to their former chair, Dr. Nizam Peerwani. I too, during the discussion on Friday, felt that the ME was being praised too much merely "for doing its job." After all, labs have a self-interest in self-reporting, because a) it's required by law and b) managers will get into much more trouble after the fact if they don't. So yes, Dr. Peerwani acted quickly to suspend the employee and review his old cases, but isn't that what he's supposed to do?
A deeper examination is needed because the findings call into question the serologist's previous work, they said.
When someone has done something "grossly dishonest,'' said Maine forensic scientist Thomas L. Bohan, "you have to really suspect everything that person has done."
How can crime lab officials be assured that other problems don't exist?, they asked.
"If I was put in prison based on a test that guy had done and if I was the attorney who represented someone based on the DNA test, I'd be hammering down the door of the courthouse to get my appeal in,'' said Driver, who is a firearms examiner and an expert on crime-scene reconstruction."That's outrageous."
An investigative panel of the commission announced at the meeting Friday that the lab doesn't need to do further testing.
In the big picture, it's part of the culture of law enforcement organizations (LEOs) that any time they're found to have engaged in misconduct, critics and the media are expected to frame their analyses to highlight everyone's good intentions. Otherwise, LEOs just become defensive and clam up (or sometimes counterattack). You see this repeatedly when police departments or District Attorneys are criticized, but the same dynamic goes on with crime labs at the FSC. The commission's reports tend not to soft-pedal the details of alleged negligence or misconduct in the cases before them, but they often go out of their way to praise agency managers for just "doing their job."
Maybe that's the most politically effective tactic: One catches more flies with honey, after all, than with vinegar. But especially when doing that with regards to an agency run by one of the commissioners, as in this instance, there's a potential for the appearance of whitewashing. It's certainly a fine line to walk.