Group urges probe of city crime lab

Inquiry sought after revelation that technicians left own DNA on evidence in 13 cases

December 18, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,melissa.harris@baltsun.com

A national legal group that works to reverse wrongful convictions called on state police yesterday to investigate possible "negligence" or "misconduct" in the city's crime lab after revelations that technicians had left their own DNA on evidence in at least 13 cases.

Stephen Saloom, policy director for the Innocence Project in New York, wrote that Congress requires Maryland State Police to oversee the lab. Before receiving federal funds for its crime lab, Baltimore certified that the state police would conduct "independent external investigations" into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct, according to the Innocence Project.

Now that the New York group is formally making such an allegation, Saloom wrote, state police "must investigate."

Greg Shipley, a spokesman for state police, said the agency received the complaint yesterday and that the allegations were being reviewed to determine how, or if, the agency would proceed.

For several years, the state's largest and busiest crime lab has been under criticism for lax safeguards involving gunshot residue tests and DNA analysis. Even before the most recent reports of evidence contamination, legislators had assigned oversight for the state's crime labs to the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, but not until 2011.

Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for Baltimore police, said that the city welcomes "as much oversight as anyone wants to throw at us. We have nothing to hide."

At the request of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board completed an "interim inspection" of the lab on Nov. 19. The board found that the lab was not in compliance with 15 "essential criteria," which must be fixed within 180 days.

Guglielmi said the department could not immediately make the report available yesterday.

Patrick Kent, the chief of the forensics division for the state public defender's office, said that a review of the lab by the Maryland State Police could be worthwhile if the public has access to the results and a representative of the defense bar has input.

"In this case, we have the same goals: transparency and reliability," Kent said.

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