Monday, July 19, 2010

Problems in the Austin crime lab

And that's the way it goes 'round here
I think everybody knows
That's the song they've been singin' for years
That's the way the wild wind blows.

Wild Wind Blows -- Robert Earl Keen

Travis County (Texas) officials are scrambling to find an outside expert to review procedures in the Austin Police Department's crime lab after reports surfaced of problems in at least 2,000 tests performed at the facility. Back in February Cecily Hamilton, a former DNA analyst at the lab, alleged that lab techs were performing tests for which they had no training or certification and that a supervisor helped an analyst on a competency test.

According to Ms. Hamilton, Crime Lab boss Ed Harris doesn't have a science degree, nor does he have a science background. The same holds true for his lieutenants, Bill Gibbens and Tony Arnold.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has called on the Texas Rangers to look into the way the crime lab operates but insists it's just a routine audit and has nothing to do with the allegations swirling around the lab.

Officials with the lab and police department chalked it up to the grumblings of a disgrunted employee and did their best to sweep the allegations under the rug. On June 23, 2010, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was notified by prosecutors that there were problems in the crime lab. Just this past week the DA held a meeting with prosecutors and told them to inform defense attorneys of the alleged problems.

So it wasn't until over four months passed that the DA was informed of the alleged problems in the crime lab -- and then it was another two weeks before defense attorneys were notified of the allegations. How many people have plead guilty based on test results obtained from the APD's crime lab while Travis County officials thumbed their fiddles?

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