San Francisco prosecutors are now considering dismissing about 1,400 drug cases this week amid a widening investigation of the Police Department’s crime lab.
District attorney’s office spokesman Brian Buckelew said today that decisions are expected this week on “all open drug cases that have been processed through the police crime lab.”
Prosecutors will likely try to keep about 300 cases “that are recent arrests that have not had narcotics tested in any lab, so they’re pure cases,” Buckelew said.
“We’ll charge those cases as soon as we get the test results from the outside labs,” he said.
While the remaining 1,400 cases remain “in jeopardy,” Buckelew said a final decision has not yet been made. Those include about 400 minor cases, typically involving suspected drug possession, that have been sent to drug rehabilitation programs or drug court.
In addition to allegations that former civilian crime lab employee Deborah Madden took small amounts of cocaine last year from evidence at the lab, investigators recently discovered a discrepancy in a sample of drugs that included Oxycontin.
Assistant Chief Jeff Godown, who is heading the Police Department’s investigation into the lab, said 17 pills were discovered missing during a retest of evidence by an outside crime lab. The pills were part of a sample of more than 100 pills that included Oxycontin and other drugs, he said. The reason for the discrepancy has not yet been determined.
Inconsistencies have also been found in the weights of some drug samples tested at the lab.
Police Chief George Gascon said he found out about the allegations concerning Madden in late February. He ordered the lab to temporarily cease drug testing on March 9. Since then, prosecutors have dismissed or temporarily discharged about 500 drug cases.
Prosecutors have said charges in new drug cases will be re-filed once tests are returned from outside crime labs to which San Francisco has been sending evidence.
Madden, who went on leave in December and retired March 1, has not been charged in connection with the crime lab investigation.
Godown said all crime lab employees, not just Madden, are a focus of the investigation.
“We are looking at all the employees that worked there at the lab during that time, whether they have involvement or not,” Godown said.
“We’re going to leave no stone unturned to determine the extent of the misconduct that was occurring in there,” he said.
A report on the lab by the California Department of Justice, which is conducting an outside audit, is expected today, according to police. Godown said he had not seen it yet.
While the fate of San Francisco’s crime lab has not been determined, Godown insisted, “I want the lab to be back up and running.”
“I don’t want to have to continue to outsource testing forever,” he said.
Godown dismissed calls for an independent lab. Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Jim Norris, the lab’s former director until 2004, made the case last week for a lab of independent scientists.
Godown said the crime lab should remain under police authority.
“We just need a lab that’s running correctly,” he said.