Criminal defense attorneys are going to love this. Anytime you have a situation where evidence is mishandled, it questions the reliability of forensic test results. Apparently the Phoenix Police Department is investigating claims that crime lab staff left evidence behind at crime scenes, and threw away fingerprint evidence.
PHOENIX — CBS 5 News obtained sworn affidavits by Phoenix police crime lab technicians accusing their co-workers of committing errors that could botch investigations, including leaving evidence behind at scenes and disposing of fingerprint evidence.
The statements were made in attempts to prove that lab employees are treated differently, depending on whether or not they’re union members or not.
“Some non-union employees have done things that could botch investigations, but nothing happens to them. Yet union members are criticized for relatively minor things,” said AFSCME Union spokesperson Frank Piccioli.
Piccioli believes the internal disputes are tearing the lab apart and wasting public resources.
Interestingly it seems this is a case of internal whistle blowers complaining of unfair treatment based on some kind of “employee classification.” As employees of a police crime lab, the crime lab staff should be used to this. One of the biggest problems working for crime labs in Arizona, is the fact that there is a a class system. There are the preferred employees (sworn police officers), and the second class employees (civilian police department employees). This isn’t the case in all police crime labs, but it is certainly the case in many police crime labs in Arizona.
Regardless of how this investigation turns out, you can be certain that the Phoenix Police Department will disclose the results of the investigation. As an organization, historically Phoenix PD has always been pretty forthcoming with the results of investigations into problems with their crime lab.
I was actually the subject of an “unofficial investigation” at the Phoenix Crime Lab. “Unofficial” in that as an accredited police department, the Phoenix police department knows they have to notify an employee if they are the subject of an internal investigation (referred to as an NOI “notice of investigation”).
What happened in my case was I was given a proficiency test to perform a Kastle-Meyer presumptive blood test. I worked in the firearms section of the laboratory, but we still had to be proficiency tested. In order to save money, the laboratory had the DNA section make up these proficiency tests internally for the firearms section. Everything was fine until I reported suede test sample as being “positive” for blood, when the answer key said it should be “negative.”
I received a memo from the quality manager notifying me of my “deficiency.” I replied back basically saying they were wrong, and that the the sample did test positive for blood. Seriously. This type of test is brainless. I could have kindergarteners trained to do it in 10 minutes.
So the quality manager returned the proficiency test to me, still in the sealed condition I returned it to them. We sat and watched as I re-did the examination on the questioned proficiency item. A positive result was obtained again. The quality manager said thank you, that’s all I needed to see.
Case closed right? Wrong. The next step was the quality manager took the proficiency test to the DNA section to have an analyst re-test the entire test. They got the same results I did, once again indicating the answer key they had was wrong.
Case closed right? Wrong. Instead of making the logical conclusion that one of dozens of items prepared internally for the proficiency test was written down incorrectly on the answer key, the lab management thinks I pulled a Captain Kirk “Kobayashi Maru” maneuver and “planted” the blood. So to investigate, they performed DNA analysis on the proficiency test sample. Now police can’t get the DNA lab to analyze everything for DNA that they want to investigate crimes in Phoenix, but here is a case where the DNA lab can’t accept they made a mistake making up a proficiency test answer key, so they perform DNA analysis to see if I “planted” blood on the sample, and if so, who’s blood.
Does anyone else see the problem with the logic there? They think I have the time or interest in trying to trick another section of the crime lab, so I knowingly add blood to a “negative” proficiency sample just to mess with them? The results of the DNA test were “bovine DNA.” Imagine that. Cow DNA from a piece of suede.
The end result was not “good job” for catching our mistake of course. It was a memo that said, “Unexpected Results,” instead of, “Passing Results.” So after ALL that, I had to do a second proficiency test. You can bet I had someone else watch me perform every step of that test from start to finish.