San Francisco police Chief George Gascon announced today reforms aimed at correcting the flaws that led to a recent crime lab scandal, including new policies for releasing information about department employees with disciplinary histories to defense attorneys.
“This has been sort of a long and painful road for the San Francisco Police Department,” Gascon said at a news conference at police headquarters. “But we believe we have come to the conclusion of this process.”
The chief outlined several changes, including procedures to reduce the backlog of drugs, DNA and firearms testing at the lab; a new “Brady” committee to review the personnel records of officers or civilian employees with criminal or disciplinary backgrounds; and a reorganization of the unit that investigates allegations against Police Department employees.
“This has been a very thorough process,” Gascon said. “We have left no stone unturned.”
Still to be resolved, though, is the case against former Police Department criminalist Deborah Madden, whose alleged pilfering of drug evidence last year began the upheaval.
Gascon said today that although his department has completed its investigation of Madden, a decision on whether to prosecute her in connection with the lab “has not been finalized” by the state Department of Justice and authorities in San Mateo County.
Madden, 60, of San Mateo, already faces separate cocaine possession charges in that county.
She allegedly admitted to taking small amounts of cocaine that spilled from evidence during testing on five separate occasions between October and December, according to police.
Prosecutors had also complained she was failing to show up to court to testify in cases where she tested the evidence.
Though Madden’s sister reported the alleged thefts in December, Gascon has said he only learned of the allegations against Madden in late February.
He ordered the drug lab closed in early March, though other parts of the lab testing DNA and firearms continue to operate.
Since the drug lab closure, prosecutors have been forced to drop hundreds of drug cases as testing is farmed out to outside labs.
San Francisco police officers have also now been trained to do “presumptive” testing of drugs out in the field after an arrest–a simpler test that would allow prosecutors to charge the case without requiring a 48-hour turnaround by the drug lab’s overworked lab techs.
While questions remained about the delay in the Madden investigation, prosecutors additionally said police never told them of Madden’s prior conviction for domestic violence in 2008.
That information might have been used by defense attorneys to try to challenge her testimony in court.
A 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense.
Gascon said today that he hoped the new Brady policy – which will be implemented by a committee made up of a retired judge, police officials and legal staff, and attorneys–would be “one of the best” such Police Department policies in the country.
He said developing the policy was an “arduous” process that involved extensive discussions with the district attorney’s office and police unions.
Amid the continuing fallout from the crime lab scandal, it was revealed earlier this week that two members of Gascon’s command staff–at least one of whom was told of Madden’s problems showing up to court in late November–have now been demoted to captain.
Gascon did not specifically address the actions today, but he acknowledged “system failures” and “human error.”
He said that prior to today’s changes, internal administrative investigations were dealt with separately from internal criminal matters.
“The two entities were reporting to different commands,” he said, and communication between the two units was “often not as robust as it needed to be.”
The units will now come together under the umbrella of the newly named Internal Affairs division.