Monday, April 7, 2014

More problems for the HPD Crime Lab

Could the news be any better for the Houston Police Department Crime Lab? After having its DNA lab shut down due to faulty storage and testing issues and after cutting loose a technical supervisor who had the nerve to say that the intoxilyzers in HPD's batvans were faulty, now comes word that an analyst has been cut loose for not following procedures.

According to this story from KRIV-26 in Houston, an analyst who had been with the lab for two years resigned in mid-March amid allegations he (or she) mishandled evidence. The situation was so bad that Irma Rios, the lab's director, wrote in a memo that she would not recommend the worker be rehired.

Unfortunately the station declined to name the analyst leaving us all in the dark as to who mishandled the evidence and whose cases were affected. None of the local news operations seem to have any qualms about putting the names of those arrested for alleged criminal activity all over the television and newspaper, but heaven forbid we publish the name of a crime lab analyst whose work may have tainted dozens or more criminal cases.

Interestingly enough the resignation of this analyst and the sudden departure of Michael Manes, the lab manager at the HPD crime lab, seem to have fallen into the same window of time. Mr. Manes, who had been with the lab in its various incarnations for around 30 years, has left the building and is now working in Montgomery County with the Sheriff's Office or as a forensic-analyst-for-hire depending on who you talk to.

It's all a bit interesting considering that a current case of mine has a lab report that was Mr. Manes performed the technical review (looking at the paperwork) last summer but was was suddenly re-reviewed by a new supervisor in mid-March with no apparent explanation.

This latest incident is just one more reason that crime labs need to be taken out of the hands of the police departments and be run as independent labs with no loyalty to any agency or office. If the purpose of scientific evidence is to get us closer to the truth, then we need to end this cozy arrangement between crime labs and law enforcement agencies.

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