Friday, July 29, 2011

The wreckage of the batmobile

I've written at length about the problems with the Houston Police Department's BATmobiles and I've written about the departure of every technical supervisor from HPD's "Crime Lab." It would appear that our stories have intersected.

Amanda Culbertson, the former technical supervisor for HPD's breath test machines, told a judge on Thursday that she and the others left the city's employ because of their concerns with the BATmobile program. Ms. Culbertson said that she left because she feared retaliation from HPD over her criticism of the program.

According to the Houston Chronicle's Brian Rogers:

[Amanda Culbertson] and others worked to train technicians to keep air conditioning units on to regulate the temperature of the breath machine that measures blood alcohol levels in suspected drunken drivers. She also said an electrical glitch that was never fixed meant the sophisticated measuring machines would reset every time the van's air conditioner was turned on. 
She said she supported the idea of a mobile testing site, but that HPD did not work to maintain the accuracy of the test results. 
"In theory it's a great idea, but it depends on who is in charge of the environmental conditions," Culbertson said.

If Ms. Culbertson's story is true, I would like to know whether the folks charged with DWI who blew into machines in the BATmobiles were informed of her concerns over the accuracy of the test results. The prosecutors, as to be expected, threw up their arms and told the judge they had no knowledge of any of this.

As an aside, the article notes that the attorneys subpoenaed Ms. Culbertson after she finished testifying in another court. Well, that's not exactly true. While the attorneys may have drafted the subpoena, Ms. Culbertson was served by none other than my brother, Dan, who is a private investigator and process server.

And this brings us back to the bigger issue - why are the labs running these tests and maintaining these machines operated by the same folks who are out there arresting motorists for driving while intoxicated? There can be no objectivity in such a setting. What does it say when the person in charge of the machines feels so threatened by her employer that she walks away from her job? If the folks in charge of the crime lab were interested in the quality of the science, why would they ignore the concerns of Ms. Culbertson?

The folks in charge should have been happy that she came to them with her concerns. They should have welcomed the opportunity to correct problems with the program. Instead, because she wouldn't stick to the script, they ran her off.

This is not to absolve Ms. Culbertson from blame, however. If she was aware of the problems back in 2009, why wasn't she testifying that she had grave concerns over the accuracy of breath tests conducted in the BATmobiles? Why wait until she's taken another job as a technical supervisor overlooking machines used in the county?

The mission of science is to discover the truth. Science is misused when it's made to fit the facts of the state's case.

1 comment:

A Voice of Sanity said...

How many cops will take a breath test with one of these machines if offered/demanded? And what does that say?