E-mail warned of crime lab problems

April 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
ABC7 has obtained an e-mail that proves San Francisco prosecutors were concerned about a drug lab technician months before the police chief heard about it.

The document details serious concerns about lab technician Deborah Madden long before she stopped analyzing sensitive drug evidence.

At this point, 365 drug cases have been dismissed and the district attorney has not been able to charge another 450 cases because of the lab's closure. Now because of an e-mail, more cases could be thrown out.

ABC7 obtained a copy of the e-mail late Wednesday night. It is dated November 19, 2009 -- way before the drug lab scandal broke. It's from the district attorney's top narcotics prosecutor Sharon Woo to the second in command of the district attorney's office.

In it, Woo says, "The situation at the Crime Lab is becoming ridiculous.... Debbie Madden has become increasingly UNDEPENDABLE for testimony."

The problem with Debbie Madden does not appear to be isolated. Woo says she believes Madden tried to sabotage lab work and purposely missed court appearances to testify in drug cases.

"I'm very concerned about this e-mail and the implications that it has for this investigation. We've already seen numerous incidences where the police had burning red flags that told them there was something wrong and there should have been investigation and was none," says public defender Jeff Adachi.

Adachi thinks hundreds if not thousands of drug cases should be thrown out.

ABC7 legal consultant Dean Johnson calls the e-mail shocking, not just because of the specific accusations about Madden, but because of the district attorney's office and police department's lack of action. Johnson says the district attorney may be guilty of a Brady violation, which requires prosecutors to tell the defense if there's ever a question of an expert's reliability.

"I think there's a good argument the material in these memos is borderline Brady material, that if there was a problem with the lab itself or a problem with a particular forensic analyst, that rendered her undependable, the failure to turn over that information to defense council in all of these cases is a potential Brady violation," says Johnson.

The district attorney's office maintains Madden's history only came to their attention in February. Also in February, police questioned Madden. She admitted to taking a small quantity of cocaine that spilled at her work station.

"I ... if some fell on the counter or something and it was sitting there afterwards, I may have taken that. But no, I didn't go scoop it out of evidence," says Madden on a recorded audio tape.

Police interrogated Madden's co-workers as well. San Francisco Police Department Crime Lab technician Tasha Smith called Madden's behavior erratic. She even accused Madden of stealing something from her locker.

"I said, 'Well, you have to remember if you went into my locker because my locker was locked. So you would have had to get the key, unlock it and lock it back, so you would have to remember. She said, 'Well, it might have been me. I don't know,'" says Smith on a recorded audio tape.

The public defender told ABC7 a judge may release more than 2,000 pages of documents and testimony on Thursday. ABC7 was told some of the files contain sensitive and personal information.


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