Ongoing concerns about the integrity of evidence tested at San Francisco’s crime lab prompted Public Defender Jeff Adachi to call today for a new lab independent of police and prosecutors.
Adachi said at a news conference he is still trying to learn how many drug cases may be linked to former lab employee Deborah Madden, 60, who is accused of taking small amounts of cocaine from evidence. She has not yet been charged.
Police Chief George Gascon ordered drug testing at the lab temporarily halted two weeks ago pending the results of an internal investigation and external audit. Gascon also released a November re-accreditation report of the lab by the American Society of Crime
Laboratory Directors that critiqued some of the lab’s policies and procedures. The lab has been given a six-month extension to fix the problems.
Adachi–who after Gascon’s announcement questioned whether hundreds or thousands of prior drug convictions might have cause to be overturned–upped the ante today, calling the situation “Madden-gate.”
“It seems that nothing that’s coming out of that crime lab has an iota of integrity,” Adachi said.
Adachi was joined by Jim Norris, the former director of the lab, who retired in 2004 and is now a private consultant, in calling for the lab to be run by independent scientists.
Adachi said such a lab could serve police, prosecutors and defense attorneys without bias.
Adachi and Norris cited “unexplainable discrepancies” in the weights of tested and then re-tested drugs, false positive tests of non-drug substances, scales that had not been properly calibrated, and questions of chain of custody at the lab.
Norris said re-calibrating scales was “a very simple thing. It takes just a couple of minutes to do.”
Norris showed a report of a March 14 re-test in a San Mateo County lab of cocaine base that Madden had tested at the San Francisco lab on Sept. 11, 2009. Madden’s test showed a gross weight, including the plastic bag, of 0.4 grams of cocaine. The new test, without the plastic bag, showed a net weight of 0.07 grams. Minus the bag, Norris said he would have expected a weight of 0.35 to 0.37 grams.
“I have no explanation,” he said.
In another case, they said, a retesting of a quantity of marijuana previously tested by Madden showed an increase in the amount she had recorded. They did not provide details on that case.
Adachi also said the drug testing currently being done by police officers on the street was expensive and “no replacement for having a qualified crime lab to do these tests.” Police began using drug-testing kits last week. Prosecutors say the tests will allow them to charge new cases while they are waiting for official results to come back from labs in neighboring counties.
District attorney’s office spokesman Brian Buckelew said today his office has charged seven new drug cases so far based on presumptive testing. The office has had to dismiss or temporarily discharge about 300 cases in the past two weeks.
Adachi said that while it was not his role to tell the police chief how to do his job, “It is part of my responsibility to make sure that we have integrity in the testing.”
Police spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka responded this afternoon that Gascon would not comment specifically on Adachi’s proposal.
“He is not going to make any comment on an independent lab,” Tomioka said. “He wants to allow these investigations the opportunity to run their course.”