Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Litigation to probe whether DA retaliated against scientists over DWI forensics

Two former crime lab employees have filed a civil suit in federal court alleging retaliation by outgoing Harris County DA Pat Lykos for revealing damaging information about Houston PDs blood alcohol testing vans, or BAT vans, as they're universally known. Reported the Chron ("Former HPD crime lab supervisors file retaliation lawsuit," Dec. 17):
Two former Houston Police Department crime lab supervisors have filed a federal lawsuit against Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, saying the county's top prosecutor retaliated against them after they spoke out about problems with HPD's breath-alcohol testing vans.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, was brought against Lykos, prosecutor Rachel Palmer and Harris County by Amanda Culbertson and Jorge Wong, identified as "citizen whistle-blowers" in the lawsuit.

Among several allegations, the lawsuit says that officials with the DA's office retaliated against Culbertson and Wong by lobbying the Harris County Commissioner's Court to cancel a contract with a local private laboratory, where the two found jobs after leaving HPD.

The lawsuit also alleges that retaliatory actions taken by Lykos and Palmer included harming Culbertson and Wong's reputations and putting their licenses as technical supervisors for the state's breath-alcohol testing program at stake.

Culbertson and Wong said the retaliation began after they expressed concerns about the reliability of tests conducted in HPD's breath-alcohol testing vans.
Big Jolly has more, including audio of the plaintiffs at a press conference. I've little to say about the latest developments that hasn't been said before, save one thing: This type of scandal is exactly the sort of episode that would benefit greatly from the thorough vetting provided by the Forensic Science Commission. But DWI-related testing is specifically exempted from their purview in their governing statute. That's as unfortunate as it is pointless. Without that sort of neutral venue for vetting forensic failings, all that's left for getting at the truth is litigation regarding ancillary employment issues that may or not implicate the flawed science in the case. Restrictions on the FSC's jurisdiction over common forensic practices like DWI testing and fingerprint examination should be repealed. Those areas aren't immune from error and the FSC has earned the opportunity to tackle them based on the professionalism and rigor of their past investigations. They'd be fair (IMO perhaps even too lenient), and even if they discover negligence or misconduct, the sky wouldn't fall.

See prior, related Grits posts:


Brad Walters said...

Now that its about the money, those in the know aren't on blogs "setting the record straight". Murray's Fact Checker blog is remarkably silent...kind of like an ADA pleading the fifth in front of a Grand Jury.

Anonymous said...

That's odd, because it appears that Murray mentioned it several days ago.

because you appear to have missed it:

Brad Walters said...

I was referring to Hooper's blog that supposedly answers Murray's blog. Bet Palmer/Hooper's blog stays very quiet or at least very careful now that Ms. Palmer is being sued. By in the know, I was referring to the actual players in this example of government gone wild.

Anonymous said...

No way, DA's would never do anything like use their position to retaliate of drum up bogus allegations to play the pay back game. They all have a high moral standard that prohibits such behavior.