GIST: "Long before the Austin Police Department’s DNA crime lab was shuttered, prosecutors and defense lawyers were second-guessing its work. In 2009, prosecutors raised red flags about DNA results in a rape case, later dismissed the charges against the suspect and eventually hired two private labs to double check the department’s results before refiling them. In 2015, a rape suspect’s trial expert said the lab’s results were so riddled with corrections and bad math that the defense should order new tests. And in early 2016, prosecutors hired an expert to review 17 criminal cases for potential problems. That expert found mistakes in all of them. “The sloppiness of the lab has been pretty much known for a while,” said Austin defense attorney Nate Stark.....Prosecutors, defense attorneys and others in the criminal justice system say it is too soon to determine how missteps in DNA analysis could impact thousands of criminal cases that have already flowed through the courts. But multiple cases identified by the American-Statesman through court records provide insight into how problems are beginning to play out — including suspicion of the wrong person in a sexual assault case — and provide a hint at what the future may hold in the Travis County criminal justice system. Despite long-term skepticism about the lab’s credibility, the facility continued to operate largely unchecked until police officials abruptly closed it in June amid an audit by the Texas Forensic Science Commission that faulted the lab for shoddy work that could impact thousands of cases.
It is unclear how — and if — questions about the lab’s performance flowed from the courtroom to the top brass at Austin police headquarters. Former prosecutors say they were in regular communication with lab managers to sound the alarm with them........ The Forensic Science Commission’s report slammed the Austin Police Department lab for using outdated calculations that overstated the certainty of the results and were “neither scientifically valid nor supported by the DNA forensic community.” The use of old procedures to interpret test results means an expert witness theoretically could tell jurors that the chances are 1 in more than a billion that the genetic material in question belonged to someone other than the defendant, when those odds really are more like 1 in 100. The commission said employees weren’t properly trained and that the lab’s leaders refused to acknowledge their mistakes. They also identified one case in which mistakes put the wrong person under suspicion in a rape case. That case, which involves a sexual assault that occurred in 2008, still hasn’t gone to trial. And it may never. Implicating the innocent; In the case of Tyrone Robinson, Austin DNA lab staff contaminated a sample that could have led police to charge the wrong man with the crime..........In 2015, the Texas Forensic Science Commission was surveying the scientific methods of labs across the state when it quickly zeroed in on major problems that Austin officials and auditors had missed or ignored. Prosecutors handpicked 17 ongoing cases and hired University of North Texas Health Science Center professor Bruce Budowle to review them. The DNA expert flagged problems in all of them. Documents obtained by the Statesman don’t provide details on all of the cases Budowle reviewed. Some don’t include the full name of the defendants, the suspected problems with their evidence or the disposition of their cases. But of those the newspaper reviewed, the expert’s main problem was the analysts’ statistical calculations determining the probability of a random person having the same DNA. However, the numbers in the cases the Statesman saw were so high — in the octillions, in some cases — that the different calculations didn’t significantly alter the conclusions. But there are thousands of other DNA analyses that might have been marred by bad protocol, said defense lawyer Darla Davis, who also is a former prosecutor. Travis County and the city of Austin will be forced to spend up to $14 million, according to some estimates, to review and reopen more than 3,600 DNA samples taken from the lab. And in some of them, the results may significantly affect the conclusions, she said..........The statistical problems aren’t the only ones that have come to light in recent months that could affect cases. Other issues that have been identified include the contamination issue, the use of old protocols and the fact that lab workers weren’t following manufacturer’s instructions for a chemical used in the analysis. Meanwhile, a lab official failed to tell lawyers and police officials in March that the lab’s freezer broke for eight days, potentially affecting the hundreds of DNA samples it held. Every case the Austin Police Department lab touched needs to be reviewed, Davis said. “This has been bad,” she said. “It’s bad for both sides. It’s a catastrophe for the whole criminal justice system.”
The entire story can be found at:
The entire story can be found at:
See Grits For Breakfast at the link below; "What a breathtaking mess the managers of Austin PD's now-closed DNA lab finds themselves in, and how fortunate for former Chief Art Acevedo that he picked up a new gig in Houston before all the details of the story came out. This writer has criticized APD under Acevedo for focusing too much money and attention on patrol while downplaying the importance of investigations, support staff, and civilian functions like the crime lab. All those issues are now coming home to roost in the form of Austin PD's DNA lab disaster........."The lede to the latest Statesman story on the Austin DNA lab fiasco offered examples of red flags which should have prompted earlier review: Long before the Austin Police Department’s DNA crime lab was shuttered, prosecutors and defense lawyers were second-guessing its work......... The story concluded: Every case the APD lab touched needs to be reviewed, [defense attorney Darla] Davis said. “This has been bad,” she said. “It’s bad for both sides. It’s a catastrophe for the whole criminal justice system.” She's not overselling it, this is a mind boggling mess. If I were a chief with a crime-lab attached to my department, I'd be looking to offload it to some other agency with scientific expertise, or as an independent entity, like in Houston. Let's call this story Exhibit A in the case for why cops shouldn't be in charge of scientists."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The 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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/