Monday, January 26, 2015

Houston crime lab labeling errors led to dropped DWI charges

More dysfunction at the Houston crime lab, where in Oct. 2013, before its transition from HPD to an independent entity, "A lack of attention by both the analyst and the analyst's supervisor allowed [a] report containing inaccurate information from the submitting officer to be reported to the District Attorney's office," according to a December report by the city's inspector general's office and a soon-to-be-released investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Anita Hassan at the Houston Chronicle reported (Jan. 23) over the weekend on an investigation by the Forensic Science Commission, whose investigative report on the topic was openly line-edited at their meeting on Friday. In this episode, "Miscues by Houston police and crime lab employees led to the wrong blood being tested in a 2013 drunken driving case where charges were eventually dropped against one suspect, according to results from two separate investigations released on Friday."

Further, reported Hassan, "The commission's investigation also found professional negligence on the part of the crime laboratory, they stated during a Friday meeting. Their investigation was launched after an analyst in the case submitted a complaint."

The analyst who made the error "was taken off case work duties for three months, during which time she underwent extensive training." However, "Whether any disciplinary action was taken against the police officer who initially mislabeled the evidence is not known." The story concluded with Daniel Garner, head of the new, civilian Houston forensic center which took over the crime lab last April, accepting responsibility for cleaning up the SNAFU.
Both the commission and the inspector general recommended changes at the lab to avoid further errors. Garner noted that most of the changes have been made and the center has taken several steps to ensure that such errors do not occur again. Those steps include implementing a written policy that evidence submitted with incorrect information will not be analyzed until all the data has been corrected, enhancing training to staff and increasing their quality insurance staff.

Garner said he also is talking with HPD officials about changes to improve submission of evidence.

The bulk of the errors pointed out in both investigations occurred while the police department still operated the crime lab, but Garner said he is willing to take on the responsibility for the incident.

"We were set up to take over the forensic operations and improve upon it, make them more robust and improve the quality," he said. "To me the idea of ducking something before my watch, that's a non-starter. We are just going to move forward from that."
MORE (1/27): There may be a followup post once Grits has a chance to read these documents, but in the meantime, I've obtained and uploaded the final FSC report on the Houston toxicology lab episode as well as the local OIG report. Happy reading.


Anonymous said...

"before its transition from HPD to an independent entity"

This is the "independent" entity that's still in HPD headquarters, and whose checks are still written by HPD, no?


Anonymous said...

Great point Jason. To further exacerbate this ridiculousness, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (a DPS entity) is conducting the investigation? This recipe for disaster is to add one part subjective bias, two parts incompetence by analysts who make about half of what a high school drop out makes in the oilfield, one part high case load, a heaping pile of meaningless junk submissions (crap in, crap out) and mix it all up in a pot owned and operated by law enforcement. Throw it all in a locked vault, let it set for six months and then serve (if you can find it). It don't make a pretty cake; more like a cow pie.

Anonymous said...

"A lack of attention by both the analyst and the analyst's supervisor allowed [a] report containing inaccurate information from the submitting officer to be reported to the District Attorney's office,"

Anyone know if the supervisor was disciplined?

Anyone know the names of the unnamed?

Or?, we can just move the hell on like Mr. (I did it) Garner wishes.

Anonymous said...

The last time I checked, the FSC was an independent state agency, and not "a DPS entity". It is not administratively connected to DPS.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 5:39-

A majority of the FSC is run by crime lab directors who have an interest in NOT publicly addressing the shambles that are Texas crime labs.

Notice that this last investigation by the FSC was largely an administrative problem, not a scientific problem. This is because they have already demonstrated that they can not handle scientific issues and they'd rather not tackle unscientific protocols or methodologies that have been in practice by the crime labs for the past decade or so, lest they want to re-open thousands of adjudicated cases. (e.g Willingham, et al.)

I mean, who has time for all that?

(hint: the wrongfully convicted based on shoddy science, sitting in prison.)

Anonymous said...

You are correct. My bad.