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748Fwd: SFGate: S.F. police shake up crime-lab leadership

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  • Justin DeCastro
    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
      cocaine evidence.
        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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