SFPD sends drugs to drug crime suspect

February 3, 2011 6:19:12 PM PST
The headline sounds incredible, but it's true -- the San Francisco Police Department delivered illegal drugs to a crime lab technician. Debbie Madden got those drugs while she was under investigation for possible drug crimes.

The I-Team even commissioned an independent lab to test the drugs the SFPD sent to Madden through her lawyer, and the tests confirm morphine and PCP.

It's the scandal that rocked the SFPD -- Madden admitted to skimming cocaine from evidence she tested at the crime lab, and using it herself.

"If some fell on the counter or something and it was sitting there afterwards, I may have taken that," she said.

The attorney general's office declined to prosecute Madden for lack of evidence. However, with her work and court testimony in question, 700 current drug cases have been dismissed and thousands of convictions are getting a second look.

The SFPD's reputation is about to take another hit because of these three little packets.

"It's actually a little money envelope, but there's no money in it, but the substance that's in there, and you can see it where my finger is down below, it's a small item, but that contains PCP and was tested as PCP," said Madden's attorney, Paul Demeester.

Demeester says now that Madden is clear of charges in the crime lab case, he can reveal a huge mistake by the SFPD. It started with a phone call from officers during the investigation; they wanted to return Madden's personal property they seized from the crime lab.

Noyes: So, physically, what happened? Did they actually bring it here themselves?

Demeester: Yes, in one SUV and one other police undercover car.

Along with Madden's mini-fridge, floor heater, coat rack and clothing, investigators returned boxes of personal and work-related property. But they didn't go through the boxes very well. The police sent Madden a file that contained proficiency tests she took in the mid-80s -- her supervisor gave her three packets of white powder. Madden identified them as morphine, a powerful pain killer, PCP, an illegal hallucinogen, and ephedrine, which can be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Incredibly, when police sent the forms to Madden through her lawyer, the drugs were still attached.

"This is comical for San Francisco Crime Lab to give her drugs when they're prosecuting her for allegedly possessing drugs," said Demeester.

The I-Team commissioned an independent lab to test the samples. The lawyer forwarded them to Sacramento. It's confirmed, the police sent morphine, PCP and ephedrine to Madden, who at that point, was a suspect in a drug case.

"Why aren't they keeping track of what's happening to these samples?" said San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi. "That's a question I think that needs to be answered."

Adachi has been a vocal critic of the police department. He calls this a "fitting end" to the crime lab scandal.

"Wasn't the whole point of the drug lab scandal for the police department to put tighter controls in place so they're not mishandling drugs?" he said. "And what do we find out? That they're giving drugs to the technician who was stealing them from the crime lab?"

When the scandal broke last March, then-police Chief George Gascon promised to answer any and all questions, saying, "Until somebody proves I'm not being transparent or doing the right thing, I think that people need to back off."

But that apparently changed when he was appointed district attorney a month ago. He refused to be interviewed for this report, even though the mistake happened under his watch when he was police chief.

"He should address it, he should address it in a very overt way and be honest about it," said San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

Mirkarimi says because of this report, he will renew his push for an independent, privately-run crime lab.

"Other cities are doing it or seriously considering it," he said. "San Francisco should do the same thing. This lesson is Exhibit A as to why."

Through his spokeswoman, acting police Chief Jeff Godown agreed to an on-camera interview and then backed out after we arrived at the Hall of Justice. We had to catch up to him at last night's police commission meeting.

Noyes: You oversaw the Madden investigation. How is it that your officers sent drugs to Debbie Madden?

Godown: We don't know what you're talking about. I can't tell you how it occurred, why it occurred and all the information that you're asking until we conduct an investigation. We're more than willing to conduct an investigation to determine what happened.

"These drugs are felonies. People go to state prison for possession of these drugs," said Tony Ribera, a former San Francisco police chief who now heads the International Institute of Criminal Justice Leadership at USF. He says this story is "symptomatic of a bigger problem" at the SFPD. "The system, and I think Chief Gascon who's-- and Jeff Godown now would agree with me, the entire system has to be tightened up significantly."

The DEA tells the I-Team that even though the drugs have been in storage since the mid-80s, they are still active and potent. Madden is facing a felony drug charge in San Mateo County after police say they found a small amount of cocaine in her house last year.

We're posting the most important documents in this case in a new I-Team blog here.