Discrepancies in all drugs widespread, officials say
For defendants accused of drug crimes, a single gram of cocaine or heroin can be the difference between probation and prison, yet discrepancies of up to a gram of all drugs tested at the SFPD crime lab were “routine,” according to testimony, so routine that multiple crime lab technicians — not just the San Mateo woman at the center of the scandal — would “laugh at it.”
During a February interview, accused crime lab cocaine filcher Deborah Madden told SFPD investigators that she had “seen tons of times when we reanalysis someone else’s dope, and the weights have been way off.”
When asked why the discrepancies were never reported, Madden replied, “I don’t know, we just kinda laughed at it,” according to testimony. Weight discrepancies up to as much as a gram “in all drugs” were “laughable,” Madden said.
While not new, the revelation means that the scandal almost definitely involves multiple technicians and multiple drugs, not just Madden and cocaine, according to Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
“We have heard this is limited to cocaine,” said Adachi, who spoke Monday at a City Hall hearing concerning the lab. “We now know that no, it wasn’t [limited to powder cocaine. And [Madden] made it very clear that it was not only her, but there were other technicians [involved].”
Likewise, the much-ballyhooed e-mail from a drug prosecutor released last week seems to suggest that the problems didn’t end with Madden. “The problems with her do not seem to be isolated,” wrote Sharon Woo, the assistant district attorney in charge of narcotics in the e-mail, dating from November.
Exactly how deep does the drug scandal go, and how many other technicians were involved? SFPD and the DA “don’t want to know,” said Adachi, who on Monday said that as many as 40,000 drug cases could be tainted by the crime lab’s misdeeds Only 25 drug envelopes, all tested by Madden, were examined for tampering. Out of those 25, 11 showed signs of tampering.
Either way, the District Attorney’s Office should hand the investigation over to state or federal prosecutors, Adachi said. “They have more concern with minimizing the impact of this [scandal] than getting to the bottom of it,” he said.
DA spokesman Brian Buckelew dismissed Adachi’s allegations, and said that the DA would charge Madden “based on the evidence.”
There is a scenario so far not considered in public: that the drug lab underestimated the weights of drugs it tested, meaning any review of past convictions could in fact strengthen the DA’s position. Officials declined to speculate.