New director for crime lab

Chiafari inherits facility under scrutiny

January 23, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,

Baltimore police named a new director yesterday to lead the city's embattled crime lab, filling a position that has been open since the previous director was fired in August amid questions of oversight.

Francis A. Chiafari, who began his new position Jan. 13, has worked with the city crime lab since 1994 when his company, Baltimore Rh Typing Laboratory, won a contract to perform DNA tests for Baltimore criminal cases. He also has served as a technical adviser for the Police Department.

Chiafari, who declined an interview request, inherits a lab that has been under much scrutiny in recent months. The Innocence Project, a national legal group that works to reverse wrongful convictions, has called on state police to investigate possible "negligence" or "misconduct" in the city's crime lab after The Baltimore Sun reported that lab technicians had left their own DNA on evidence.

The problem went unnoticed because employees had failed to enter their own DNA into a database. Such contamination occurred in at least 18 cases, raising broader questions about evidence collection. Police revealed the problem in August and cited other, undisclosed "operational issues" after firing lab director Edgar Koch, who had held the position for 10 years.

Koch said at the time that the criticism had been "blown out of proporation."

But a review of the lab by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors found "non-compliance" with 15 "essential" criteria, which had to be remedied within six months. The Police Department has refused to release the details of the report, saying its disclosure would not be in the public interest.

Also, The Sun has reported that in at least nine homicide, sex assault and burglary cases, Baltimore police detectives instructed lab technicians not to follow up on convicted criminals' DNA found on evidence at crime scenes because they determined it was not relevant.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has requested a complete review of cases handled by the lab, saying prosecutors and defense attorneys need to be made aware of all the evidence police collect.

In a 1994 Sun profile, Chiafari was described as lanky and bespectacled, prone to slipping jargon like "polymorphism" and "heterozygosity" into casual conversation.

At the time his company began providing DNA services to the city, most of his experience with DNA testing related to paternity cases. His company, BRT Laboratories Inc., is behind the Mona Lisa billboards advertising paternity tests with the slogan, "Who's the Daddy?"

According to a news release, Chiafari has a master's degree from the University of Maryland and has served as an expert witness in numerous court cases, including a Baltimore County double-murder of a woman and her unborn child.

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