Thursday, June 30, 2011

Personal feuds poison environment for reform at military crime lab

State and local crime labs, including in Texas, have been on the hot seat over the last several years and it turns out, according to a story from McLatchy Newspapers, US military forensics aren't exempt from the errors and lapses in professionalism that have sunk crime lab managers from Houston to North Carolina to San Francisco. Marissa Taylor reports ("Beyond missteps: Military crime lab roils with discontent," June 26):
The military's premier crime lab should be a place of sober scientific research, but lately it seems more like the set of a soap opera consumed with scandal and intrigue.

In less than four years, at least six internal investigations have been launched and six complaints filed against managers. The accusations and counter-accusations include racism, sexual harassment, assault and fraud.
The disputes have embroiled top managers and pitted them against one another. The lab's former lawyer says she was retaliated against for blowing the whistle. The military counters that she made off with official records.
Amid the upheaval and finger-pointing, a lab analyst was convicted of embezzling almost $70,000 from a professional association to pay for his gambling addiction.

"The place is a rat's nest," said Mike Jellison, a former firearms examiner who worked at the lab for 14 years. "It's not conducive to science."

Interviews and thousands of pages of court and military documents that McClatchy Newspapers obtained reveal a litany of concerns about the lab where analysts handle evidence from all the military branches. Each year, about 3,000 criminal cases are processed at the facility called the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory.

Acrimony and backbiting permeate the lab, military officials have found. Employees accuse the lab of protecting bad managers and ignoring serious complaints such as conflict of interest and waste. Prompted by the swirling allegations, the military ordered sensitivity training for lab officials and conducted an employee survey to assess conditions.

"There are perceptions that managers are biased for a variety of reasons," Army Col. Eric Belcher concluded after one inquiry in 2009 that described a brewing problem with "extremely bad relationships between managers." (See the rest.)
RELATED: Mounting errors at military crime lab.

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