Tuesday, July 08, 2008

TV station: False UA positives tolerated in Bexar "because the county wants to save a few bucks."

A San Antonio TV station is preparing an investigative report following up on allegations that the contractor performing urinalysis for the Bexar County adult probation department is using methodologies that produce false positives. From WOAI-TV:

Nobody likes being accused of something they didn't do. But many probationers here in Bexar County say that is exactly what is happening to them. And some are winding up in jail.

News 4 Trouble Shooter Brian Collister is probing problems with the Probation department's drug tests.

Since the county's probation department switched to a new drug testing lab earlier this year, the number of positive drug tests by probationers has skyrocketed.

But many of them say they are clean.

Lani Bennett tested positive for drugs while on probation. She was shocked when she was arrested at the drivers license office because of a warrant for a dirty drug test.

"They didn't give me any warning or anything," says Lani. "I'm (at) DPS trying to get a status of my license cause I'm trying to change over insurances for my car and I'm getting taken out in handcuffs."

She later got a hair test that shows she was clean.

"People are capable of change. I have the legal paperwork to prove that I have changed and I did not use."

And she is not alone.

In fact, a News 4 Trouble Shooters investigation uncovered a flaw in the way the county is conducting these tests. Turns out people go to jail because the county wants to save a few bucks.
The full story airs tonight, and continues a rocky recent stretch for the Bexar adult probation department. Director Bill Fitzgerald fired the whistleblower who first identified problems with the drug tests, but chose to retain the contractor. Then last week, Fitzgerald fired his second in command without giving him or the public a reason.

After beginning a consulting stint recently working for the Innocence Project of Texas, it's struck me that frequently "innocence" issues in the public lexicon are defined pretty narrowly - for the most part limited to murder or sexual assault cases involving DNA exonerations.

But "innocence" is also an issue whenever a probationer is sent to jail because because of a false positive on a urinalysis test, or when errors in breathalyzer technology falsely accuse someone of driving drunk. Faulty forensics aren't just limited to arson or ballistics: High error rates are tolerated in a variety of forensic disciplines.

While some high-profile exonerations have involved alleged police misconduct or prosecutors withholding Brady material, much more frequently innocent people are punished as a result of reliance on unreliable investigative methods and sloppy forensics. From the perspective of the person wrongly accused, however, the motives of authorities promoting false accusations matter very little.


Anonymous said...

Chief Fitzgerald bites. Would Project Innocence look at this?

Anonymous said...

Assuming this report is accurate, this reflects poorly on the judges of Bexar County, who are ultimately responsible for the operation of the department. In addition, this reflects poorly on CJAD, which promulgates standards and rules, monitors departments, and imposes sanctions when necessary. Both the judges and CJAD need to act immediately to remedy an unstably situation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last post. Project Fitzgerald is an unmitigated disaster.

Anonymous said...

This is a corrupt department. The judges look like they are a part of the corruption.

Anonymous said...

Ever since I started working for the department, I was told that it can only get better now... but in the last few years, it has gotten worse and every time I think that we've hit rock bottom and it can't get any worse, I'm hit with news that it actually has gotten worse. I'm afraid of what's next! As much as you try to stay out of all the drama, there is no escaping it if you work for the department. Whether we want to admit it or not, these problems are unavoidable and if you don't take the right side, you are blackballed by either the admin, union or somebody in the dept. This is a lose-lose situation.

Anonymous said...

A lot of Probation Officers make most cops look kind and gentle.
The PO's often demand that their "clients" be arrested on flaky info.

Anonymous said...

It's not the probation officers. If you read these posts, you will find most of them care about their community to the extent of one great officer being terminated for standing up for what is morally right.

All officers walk a fine line between protecting the public and motivating a criminal population to be law-abiding.

As all line officers throughout the state, these folks are not supported by the administrators who run the department. CJAD and the courts fail to understand the role of probation officers and how vital they are in being the only persons who can protect and serve the public like no other agency.

The administrators threatened officers with their jobs if they spoke up.The courts still remain silent.

How about contacting your judges!

Anonymous said...

As a professional in the law enforcement arena it is disconcerting to hear of arrests based on faulty results. There are more reports of inmates being released after DNA has cleared them. Unfortunately, many in my profession like the owner of TA are not CJAD change agents. Instead He stated that after working with these types for 20 years, even if they are not guilty of of a positive UA they are guilty of something. Defendants are liars and manipulators. None the less you'd think officers would still like them to be arrested on valid violations.

This TA owner spoke to officers as if they were naive and unintelligent, while deeming to the defendant. Not all defendant's are strung out heroin addicts or crack addicts. Talk to all those defendants who do finish supervision successfully. Those who maintain sobriety.

Fitzgerald didn't stop using him. His remedy fire the loud mouth, trouble making, giver of bad advice, boil on the butt of the judges's world Simonelli.

To the 5:50 blogger. If you don't have any real time invested in the department leave. The Judge's don't care about you and continue to back a man who doesn't know how to lead. Whatever house Fizgerald builds will surely fall. So, there seems to be no light at end of this tunnel..

Anonymous said...

Treatment Associates Jeff Warner needs to continue with the N/A meetings. Fitzgerald & Adminstrators, the cookie house is about to come tumbling down. D.C. Judges stop taking sides and stand for what is wrong. Oops!! You are already doing that.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if these contracted companies that do urine testing are routinely audited and who does the auditing. I mean auditing for correct analysis results. Seems like this would have to be done somewhat like a bank audit. You would have to go in and freeze everything and run your own tests on a part of each of the audit samples.

And then you have to make sure the auditing company is not corrupt too. Remember how Arthur Anderson Accounting Firm was cooking the books for Enron? Same principle.

The corruption I perceive here on the part of the state and local governments and the judges, attorneys and court system just boggles my mind, and I am someone who does not have a deep knowledge of this.

I recall serving on a crack cocaine jury case and the cop and police "science" type special employees going on and on about their expertise and their chain of custody stringent rules. It all sounded like a system with a bunch of huge holes in it and that is when I began to perceive the deep corruption of our local police departments.

Anonymous said...

Is this a case of corruption or incompetence? If it were corruption, wouldn't someone be benefitting from all of this? I have to go with incompetence.

Anonymous said...

For the most part, PO's are part of the bureaucratic problem.It seems that collecting money from probationers is their primary objective. Keeping our prison's at maximum capacity is the other.
Assessing the needs of the offender and meeting those needs through community resources, is no longer the the focus. This is a far cry from John Augustus(the father of probation)original intentions.

Seems that if you are a good PO your days are numbered. How sad is that?

Anonymous said...

"Is this a case of corruption or incompetence? If it were corruption, wouldn't someone be benefitting from all of this? I have to go with incompetence.

It is a case of corruption AND incompetence. Actually, the better phrase would be not "incompetence" but NO COMPETENCY. This milieu is a no competency zone. If a person or entity is present who wishes to get things straight and do things right, they will soon find themselves out of work.

Incompetency is everpresent in government operations so it is a perfect scapegoat to cover the corruption.

It is never solely "incompetency".

The records are probably closed to we the people who would like to find out who is benefiting in this system. There are private company contractors involved and every time you want to look at the internal operations of one of these private contractors, the city or county open records people will or the city attorneys will always tell you the citizen that you have no right to the records of a private company. Also, when it is convenient, the private contractor can and do subtly point the finger of guilt to the governmental entity they contract with.

Also, when you want to get records and see in detail how a private contractor was chosen by the government, you really get in to tightly closed records. The only thing that is crystal clear in this kind of inquiry is that the public, the individual citizen, is completely and blatantly kept out of the loop in all of these creations of public/private partnerships and choices of private contractors. The public is kept completely in the dark. Even the Texas General Services Commission (if that is still its correct name) is supposed to oversee state contracting but they do not properly oversee these matters. They keep close tabs on bidding protocol, but they completely overlook the major improprieties in other aspects in seeking out requests for proposals or requests for bids. There are so many under the table deals benefitting government officials and bureaucrats that none of us really can grasph the magnitude of the corruption.

Also on this subject of forensic evidence, there have been more and more stories making the mainstream media that show that our federal and local crime labs are maufacturing evidence. There are people in power who want certain people to be convicted and put away in prison and they control all the workers in these government and private systems.

Lastly, there is the corruption or those who benefit who belong to that huge group of "workers" who lack the character and courage and honesty to blow the whistle on the dishonest they each are being made to do in their everyday work tasts. They value their jobs and their future careers more than they value risking whistle blowing. If one does not wish to be a formal whistle blower, one ought at least to quit the crooked job and then anonymously tell all to a place like this blog. That would be a big help.

Give up the incomepetency theory. Corruption rules all today.

Anonymous said...

You may be right in that there are some benefactors hidden from our view. I'm bothered by the obvious incompetence and/or apathy among the players in the justice system. We have a probation department filing bogus probation violations for dirty ua's, the DA prosecuting the innocent without substantial evidence, defense counsel standing around like deaf mutes not objecting to the evidence, and judges jailing the accused without considering the standard of proof in probation violation cases (preponderance of evidence). They all look incompetent.

Anonymous said...

I am having a hard time understanding how you can call...

a probation department filing bogus probation violations for dirty ua's,

the DA prosecuting the innocent without substantial evidence,

defense counsel standing around like deaf mutes not objecting to the evidence,

and judges jailing the accused without considering the standard of proof in probation violation cases (preponderance of evidence)


It looks like deliberate to me.

I do not see "failures."

I think silence and inaction can be deliberate and can constitute malfeasance of office.

That is not to see that there are not plenty of people in the mix who are not incompetent to some degree.

But again, this is common and almost universal. It is being observed of long-time "players". They know exactly what they are doing (or not doing as the case may be).

Anonymous said...

1:28, you pose an interesting question: is it deliberate corruption or blissful ignorance? I recall an interesting finding from a Harvard study on incompetence a few years back. The one common denominator among incompetent individuals is that "They are too incompetent to realize they are incompetent." You might be correct in assuming there is malicious conduct involved. It's just that the evidence hasn't surfaced yet.

Anonymous said...

"malicious conduct"

Yes, "omissions" such as not acting and not speaking up and not blowing the whistle are malicious conduct, but it just is not possible to ever get evidence on most of this.

You have people who play along with the system. They follow the party line. They don't make waves. They know they have to act this way to keep their jobs. This is everywhere.

It's what is loosely called the "Neuremberg" maneuver, i.e., the "Neuremberg defense." - just following orders.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

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Anonymous said...

Non-statisticians can get a handle on the problem by reading some of the literature which presuppose only a knowledge of high school algebra. Learn the terms
"counting tree", "sample space" and "conditional probability ",
The entire sample space must be accounted for...including the infamous probability of no drug use given a positive reading..with a repeat for two-tier schemes.
Failure to meet this minimum criterion is an intellectual fraud on a par with Missile Defense and Iraqi WMD's Heed and don't be guilty of arguing "ad homenem".