748Fwd: SFGate: S.F. police shake up crime-lab leadership
- Mar 21, 2010
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Saturday, March 20, 2010 (SF Chronicle)
S.F. police shake up crime-lab leadership
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
(03-19) 17:58 PDT SAN FRANCISCO --
The San Francisco Police Department ordered a shakeup at its crime lab
Friday, putting sworn officers in charge and reassigning its civilian
manager as investigators probe suspicions that a technician skimmed
The moves are part of the department's efforts to limit damage from a
scandal that has forced police to halt drug testing and left prosecutors
no choice but to drop more than 200 narcotics cases.
Police Chief George Gascón has also asked outside auditors to investigate
the drug section of the lab as he tries to re-establish its credibility,
which was damaged by suspicions that a now-retired technician, 60-year-old
Deborah Madden, stole and used cocaine. Madden has not been charged.
Among the issues investigators are looking into is why it took two months
for police to open a criminal investigation after being tipped to Madden's
possible drug thefts by her sister, and why the department failed to tell
an outside agency that certifies criminal laboratories of the suspicions
about the technician. New lab boss
Gascón announced Friday that Cmdr. Jeff Godown, a former colleague of the
chief's in the Los Angeles Police Department who came here last year to
install a computerized crime-tracking system, has been promoted to
assistant chief and will supervise the crime lab at Hunters Point. He is
replacing Assistant Chief Jim Lynch, who is retiring.
The chief also installed a new captain at the crime lab and added a
lieutenant to help run it. The lab's civilian manager, James Mudge, was
put in charge of a project related to automated fingerprint analysis.
"These moves are temporary and are expected to last 90 to 180 days," the
department said in a statement. "They have been ordered to facilitate the
ongoing investigation into alleged improprieties" at the lab, but are "in
no way punitive" and "have been implemented to enhance the transparency of
the investigation," the statement said.
Ralph Keaton, executive director of the American Society of Crime
Laboratory Directors, which recently released a critical audit of the
crime lab, said many police departments in recent years have put their
labs under civilian oversight and have pulled sworn officers from the job.
But, he said, "there are still quite a few labs that are managed by law
enforcement personnel. Both systems can run fine - the key is that the
person running it is seriously interested in the forensic sciences." Other
Keaton's agency refused to recertify the San Francisco police lab in
February, instead giving the department six months to fix several
problems. Police officials did not tell the group about the drug-skimming
suspicions when auditors were in the city, Keaton said. Assistant Chief
Morris Tabak confirmed Friday that the department failed to notify the
auditors until this month.
Keaton would not comment on what effect that would have on the group's
eventual decision on whether to recertify the crime lab. More cases
The courtroom fallout from the March 9 closure of the lab's drug section
spread Friday, as prosecutors dropped nine cases that were on the verge of
going to trial and 22 more cases in which defendants were to be arraigned
or go to a preliminary hearing.
Brian Buckelew, spokesman for District Attorney Kamala Harris, said
prosecutors may try to refile charges in six of the nine cases that had
been close to trial. Prosecutors consider the other three too minor to
pursue in light of the drug lab crisis, he said.
One of the defendants in the nine dropped cases was relieved Friday.
"I'm happy it's over with," said Deric Russell, 44, who had been set to go
to trial for allegedly possessing crack cocaine.
"I'm trying to get my life back together," he said. "I want to move on and
leave drugs alone."
E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at jvanderbeken@.... ----------------------------------------------------------------------
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