Public Defender Wants Investigation Of 'Secret Society of Criminalists' at Crime Lab

Categories: Crime, Law & Order
Seriously, what's going on at that crime lab?
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi is calling for an outside investigation of the police's crime lab after news came out late Tuesday that a former civilian lab technician, Deborah Madden, had allegedly stolen cocaine evidence samples from at least six cases in late 2009 for her own use.

"The DA is in charge of prosecuting cases, and the police run the crime lab, so to think this investigation could somehow be handled by these agencies is naive," Adachi said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. He suggested that a judicial officer be appointed to oversee the investigation. "The police department should not be investigating itself."

Adachi says he wants to know why he wasn't informed about Madden's alleged behavior that could have compromised hundreds of drug cases since the police first found evidence of missing drug samples in December. Adachi says he'll move to have all the cases in which she handled the evidence dismissed, as 12 were just this morning. Doing the math -- the Public Defender's office handles 6,000 drug cases a year, and Madden was one of only three lab technicians testing drug evidence -- that could be hundreds, "potentially thousands" of cases. Unfortunately, he said, is that all drug evidence in cases prior to 2008 has been destroyed, so it would not be possible to re-test any of those samples.

"It was sad this happened, but what is even sadder is that hundreds if not thousands of people might have been convicted based on evidence that was tampered with," Adachi said. 

Chief Attorney Teresa Caffese said the public defender's office will seek to get a list from the district attorney of all cases Madden ever handled or supervised in order "to take appropriate remedies."  

The public defender's DNA expert, Bicka Barlow, said that this is just the "tip of the iceberg" of the problems at the lab -- one of the biggest being a lack of transparency. Barlow says the office had been requesting the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors audit of the lab -- which Chief George Gascon released to the media last night -- since 2002. SF Weekly also filed a public records act request for the audit report more than a month ago, but police denied to hand it over, saying it was not a public record.

"Because there is no transparency, things go on there that wouldn't otherwise go on in other laboratories, and since we're not allowed access to the documentation that would allow us to learn about this, we didn't learn about it. ... It's a closed, secret society of criminalists."

As if on cue, the police this afternoon announced 15-minute tours of the beleaguered crime lab in the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard this afternoon for the press. We'll report back.
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