SF crime lab scandal strains justice system
AP / FOXNEWS / April 2, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO — The first hint of scandal at the San Francisco crime lab came in December when officials received a tip that a technician might be stealing cocaine used as evidence.
An investigation soon revealed that small amounts of cocaine were missing, and the scandal has just snowballed from there.
Hundreds of narcotics cases may have to be thrown out, the drug-testing lab has been closed indefinitely, and outside reviews have unmasked even deeper concerns with how evidence is handled at the facility. The scandal has served as an embarrassment to the police department and raised questions about why officials weren't more proactive in dealing with the problems.
"Anybody who doesn't see the magnitude of this problem is either blind or stupid," San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon said after a review cited bad management at the lab has led to poor practices.
The district attorney's office has already thrown out or not charged 550 cases because of possible evidence tampering, and is reviewing about 1,400 more for possible dismissal.
A final decision hasn't been made on how many ultimately will be tossed, but may come Friday. Authorities are trying to salvage some cases by having drugs retested at other labs; they also may refile some of the dropped cases.
The woman accused of skimming drugs from the lab for her own use, Deborah Madden, has not been charged. Madden took a leave of absence from the lab in December following an audit that found cocaine was missing from the lab, then retired last month. She was a criminalist for 29 years.
LOST EVIDENCE, LOST CONVICTIONS, GUILTY GO FREE...