Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Drylabbing?

The Houston Police Department crime lab has been under a dark cloud for a couple years now. It started when problems were discovered in the DNA lab. Those problems resulted in at least two innocent people being sent to prison in sexual assault cases. Since then, incompetence and misconduct has been found in the ballistics lab, toxicology lab, and serology lab (where a forensic "scientist" got the blood type of an unknown sample incorrect--the blood type!). Now, though, comes word that in the most-used section of the lab--controlled substances--has actually completely fabricated test results to conform to police suspicions. The practice, called "drylabbing," involved the forensic "scientists" never actually performing the required lab tests, but instead completely fabricating the results. In one case, the "scientist" was supposed to test tablets that the police suspected were a date-rape drug. Instead of testing the tablets recovered from the defendant, the "scientist" tested a known sample of the date-rape drug itself, and reported the results as a test of the tablets from the defendant. The scariest part of the whole thing is that of the two lab workers involved in the "dry-labbing," one of them still works there. I'm just curious as to whether the prosecutor has been turning over to defense attorneys this information in cases where this "scientist" is currently responsible for conducting the tests. I'm guessing not, but I could be wrong.

This whole situation highlights the major problem that the state refuses to address as it relates to crime labs. And while the HPD lab has been the big headline-grabber for the last couple years, there have also been numerous problems reported at Department of Public Safety labs across the state, so this is not simply a Houston issue. This year, the legislature created some sort of Forensic Science Commission that is supposed to oversee all crime labs in the state. It sounds great, but I'm reserving judgment until I see what they actually accomplish. In the meantime, back to what I see as the major problem. Crime labs should not be a branch of law enforcement! They should not be a part of the police department. They should not be a part of DPS. This isn't like CSI where the crime lab folks are running around interviewing suspects and other nonsense. These people are supposed to be objective scientists. And when they work for the police department, that is a hell of a lot harder. In Oklahoma City, forensice "scientist" Joyce Gilchrist of the Oklahoma City PD crime lab was named "Police Officer of the Year" because of her oustanding work in putting people away. Of course, she was a complete fraud and lying through her teeth the whole time. I'm not sure about this, but I'm guessing that if she had truthfully reported scientifically accurate results that repeatedly did not implicate the police's suspect, she wouldn't have been singled out for that award.

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