COMMENTARY: "More HPD Crime Lab Problems; This Time it’s the Crime Scene Unit," by JoAnne Musick, published by The Musick law firm home page, on July 29, 2016.GIST: "Yes, I said HPD Crime Lab rather than Houston Forensic Science Center. Despite the fancy new name and claimed independence, it’s the same old game. This time the Lab commissioned an audit of its crime scene unit related to officer-involved shootings. The purpose of the audit was to address complaints by the District Attorney’s Office and HPD’s own homicide division. The audit focused solely on the crime scene unit and their performance during the investigation of officer-involved shootings. And the results reveal anything but independence. Hat tip to the Houston Chronicle for revealing this audit and reporting on its findings. Set aside for a minute the technical problems with the crime scene unit, the audit highlights a continued lack of autonomy expected of an independent and forensic agency. This “independent” crime scene unit is comprised of 26 employees: a civilian director, a civilian administrative employee, four civilian investigators, and 20 HPD officers and sergeants. 77% of their staff are commissioned officers from the Houston Police Department – the very entity it largely investigates and is supposed to remain independent of. The crime scene investigators even wear HPD uniforms or insignia as they collect evidence and process scenes. They are in fact HPD officers and employees who are subject to transfer out of the crime scene unit and back into the regular ranks. That’s not an independent agency. Additionally, the crime scene unit personnel are directed largely by the homicide detectives on the scene as well as the officer involved in the shooting. The audit noted that the decision to stop evidence collection was made to appease the homicide detective who determined he “had enough” evidence and an iron clad case. The involved officer, the shooter and apparent target of the independent investigation, is present telling his colleagues “what happened,” it is difficult for crime scene investigators to look past those words and search for additional, or dare I say contradictory, evidence. On a side note, this is the same bias faced by prosecutors and their investigators – they too are on scene and inside the scene listening to the officer describe what happened. They too will have difficulty looking past those words. Outside of the walk through and witnessing the charting of the officer’s weapon, they sit back and wait on reports from the crime scene unit, homicide, and internal affairs. They conduct no other independent investigation. Instead, they serve as only a somewhat independent review. Having been on many of these scenes, both as a representative of the District Attorney’s Office and as an involved officer’s legal counsel, the “walk through” by the officer always leads the evidence collection. Sure the scene is secured prior to the walk through and some evidence may already be marked, but everyone is looking for the officer’s rendition to know where else to look and what might be there. To be fair, where a foot chase proceeds a shooting, the scene can be rather large and spread out, necessitating some direction by the officer involved. But for independence, his involvement and direction in the scene must be minimal. Investigators must be free to disregard his words and explanation as they search independently for evidence. Back to those technical problems: the internal audit found that crime scene unit technicians lack basic forensic skills and training. That’s kind of a big problem given their role in evidence collection. They are not trained specifically in bloodstain patterns and trajectory analysis. This could mean they miss the significance of bloodstains found on the scene. They may guess at or misread an angle of fire as a bullet traveled from the officer’s gun through an object or into a person. They overly rely on two-dimensional photographs to document facts rather than notes, data, and measurements. In fact, they rarely use the sophisticated FARO Focus 3d X330 laser scanners available to capture millions of measurements within the scene and provide a three-dimensional view.This is not to say that skills and training cannot be improved; it’s simply to point out that they must be strengthened..."
The entire commentary can be found at:
See related Houston Chronicle story -Audit: Crime lab lacks self-rule,' by Lisa Olsen and James Pinkerton (July 29, 2016) at the link below; "Houston crime scene technicians lack basic forensic skills and the independence to analyze and secure locations at which city police officers have shot or killed civilians, according to a highly critical internal audit released Thursday. The 12-page review, performed by three out-of-state experts, concluded that the technicians require training in blood spatter analysis and crime scene reconstruction. It also found that too many people, including police union lawyers, are allowed access to officer-involved shooting scenes before all evidence has been gathered. The unit “must be free to process the scene without bias or extraneous information,” the audit states. “It is critical that the evidence speak for itself. If the involved officer is there telling colleagues ‘what happened’ it can be very difficult to see beyond those words.” Daniel Garner, president of the city’s newly independent crime lab, the Houston Forensic Science Center, said he commissioned the audit in June after hearing complaints about the quality of its forensic work and procedures from investigators at the District Attorney’s office and at the Houston Police Department’s Homicide Division. The new nonprofit crime lab was broken off from HPD in 2014 after a series of scandals involving untested rape kits and other poor forensic practices. Despite its new independent status, the nonprofit still conducts its laboratory work in the cramped top floors of police headquarters at 1200 Travis. Twenty of 26 employees at its Crime Scene Unit are city police officers. Tensions remain among its mix of police officers and civilians, officials acknowledge."
I have added a search box for content in this blog which now encompasses several thousand posts. The search box is located near the bottom of the screen just above the list of links. I am confident that this powerful search tool provided by "Blogger" will help our readers and myself get more out of the site.
Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty
incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the
harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into
pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology
system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent
stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:
Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:
send any comments or information on other cases and issues of
interest to the readers of this blog to:
Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;