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Friday, April 23, 2010

40,000 Calif. drug cases could face review due to scandal - The case of a crime lab technician suspected of stealing cocaine booked as evidence may force reviews

40,000 Calif. drug cases could face review due to scandal - The case of a crime lab technician suspected of stealing cocaine booked as evidence may force reviews

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — As many as 40,000 San Francisco drug cases handled by Deborah Madden, the former police laboratory technician suspected of stealing cocaine booked as evidence, may need to be reviewed and it's going to take money to do it, Public Defender Jeff Adachi told a Board of Supervisors' committee Monday.

"We're being deluged with calls from people in prison, asking us to review their cases," Adachi said after a morning-long hearing on the police crime-lab scandal. He already has asked the mayor's office for money to hire two more people to help deal with the load.

"There's a substantial amount of work that needs to be done," Adachi said.

The 40,000 cases is a matter of simple math, the public defender added: Madden was questioned about 4 grams of cocaine missing from evidence she handled in 2005, so every case she handled since then should be suspect.

Conflict of interest?
Adachi also slammed the conduct of both the police and the district attorney's office, arguing that neither agency can fairly investigate Madden when her job for 29 years was to help police and prosecutors.

They have a vested interest in minimizing her criminal involvement so that fewer drug cases get tossed out, Adachi said.

"Why should the district attorney be in charge of prosecuting one of their star witnesses?" Adachi asked after the hearing. "She testified every day for them in court. They were in the business of bolstering her credibility."

He also complained that the police were dragging their feet by refusing to file charges against Madden quickly.

"I've never seen a stronger case," Adachi said.

Back off, Gascón says
Police Chief George Gascón rejected any suggestion that his department should pass the Madden case to the state Department of Justice or another agency.

"It's putting the cart before the horse" to say the San Francisco Police Department shouldn't be investigating the matter, the chief said at a news conference.

"I was brought in to fix this Police Department," said Gascón, who took over as chief in July. "It was understood that it needed to be reformed, and that I was the one to do it. ... We have been very transparent. Until someone proves that I am not transparent, they need to back off."

Madden allegedly told investigators she began taking cocaine from the crime lab in October. She took a leave from her job in December, just weeks before lab supervisors discovered that cocaine was missing from evidence she had handled. She retired March 1.

Drug testing at the lab was stopped last month in the wake of a police investigation into the lab and its operation.

'This lab is a mess'
"There is no doubt this lab is a mess. ... I know there are issues in the lab," said Assistant Chief Jeff Godown, whom Gascón has tapped to run the investigation into what went wrong with the lab and come up with solutions. "It's a daunting task, but it will be taken care of."

1 comment:

RustyShackleford said...

While this is a particularly egregious example, problems like this are hardly unique to SF's crime lab.

Crime labs across the country are often antiquated and underfunded. I wonder how many innocent people have gone to jail, and how many criminals have gone free, as a result.