Report highlights deficiencies at SFPD crime lab

March 11, 2010 12:00:01 AM PST
A new report critical of San Francisco's police crime lab has come to light after the stunning accusation that a lab technician had been stealing cocaine submitted as evidence.

This case already had a big impact at the jail. It's important to point out that Deborah Madden has not been arrested or charged in connection with any of these allegations about what was going on at the crime lab.

San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi said hundreds of cases may be dismissed in light of evidence tampering allegations at the San Francisco crime lab.

Adachi told reporters he was "blindsided" by Tuesday night's announcement from police chief George Gascon, that long-time crime lab technician Deborah Madden, may have tampered with drug evidence and even taken some cocaine for her personal use.

"We do not know the scope of the problems dealing with this employee, but we'll get to it," SFPD Chief George Gascon said.

Adachi says he only learned about the investigation into Madden from news reports.

"I want to know why no one was notified, including myself," he said.

Already on Wednesday, at least 20 cases handled by Madden were dismissed, the suspects released from jail.

Public defender Elizabeth Hilton watched four of her clients go free on Wednesday morning because of the investigation.

"I have clients that go to state prison for selling a little piece of dope to an undercover officer, and she tested the dope," said Hilton.

The Public Defender's Office displayed some of Madden's reports showing dates and information crossed out and rewritten.

"Those cases where Ms. Madden was involved in any shape, way or form, we will seek to ensure that those cases are dismissed," Chief Attorney Teresa Caffase said.

Though Madden worked at the lab for 29 years, the District Attorney's office believes her misconduct dates back less than a year.

"All of the evidence right now points to it being isolated to late 2009, but in an abundance of caution the police department is undertaking an audit greater in scope," the DA's spokesman Brian Buckelew said.

The public defender is calling for a much larger independent investigation into operations at the lab.

"It's a closed and secret society of criminalists. I think this may just be the tip of the iceberg as far as problems at the crime lab," deputy public defender Bicka Barlow said.

Adachi wants an investigation into all of the conduct at the crime lab, not just the narcotics division. San Francisco Police Dept. has shut down that division until further notice.

"We will press on and do our best to put this behind us and know that this is not a reflection upon every person in this laboratory," said crime laboratory manager Jim Mudge.

This case means a lot more work for everyone involved: for the crime lab technicians, for the police, the district attorney, and public defender's office. They need to find every case that might be affected and then they need to agree about it. Put another way, this may take awhile.


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