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Police Chemist's Suit Says Firing Was Retaliatory


April 25, 2002
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Police Chemist's Suit Says Firing Was Retaliatory

By The New York Times

OKLAHOMA CITY, (AP) -- A fired police chemist whose work in hundreds of cases is being reviewed has filed a federal defamation lawsuit accusing city and police officials of retaliating because she reported sexual misconduct.

The chemist, Joyce Gilchrist, who had worked for the Oklahoma City police department since 1980, was fired in September, accused of performing shoddy work and giving false or misleading testimony in cases, including some in which she helped send men to death row.

Ms. Gilchrist's testimony helped put Robert Lee Miller Jr. in prison for 11 years for a murder he did not commit. In 1998, he was released from death row based on DNA tests.

Ms. Gilchrist, whose suit seeks $20.1 million, is also the subject of state and federal criminal investigations.

Richard Smith, a lawyer for Oklahoma City, said Ms. Gilchrist had a chance to present all evidence before she was fired. Police spokesmen declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The suit, filed on Wednesday, said that more than $1 million was wasted reviewing 1,700 cases and that only one case was overturned because of the investigation - that of Jeffrey Todd Pierce in May. Mr. Todd spent 15 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.

Ms. Gilchrist's lawsuit said she reported misconduct in 1998 by her supervisor against a woman teaching classes on DNA methods. The supervisor learned of the complaint, the suit said, and began departmentwide retaliation against Ms. Gilchrist.

Police later began a secret investigation of her performance and testimony, which eventually led to her losing responsibility for the police DNA laboratory, the lawsuit contends.

The new laboratory overseer, Laura Schile, reanalyzed evidence based on Ms. Gilchrist's 1986 courtroom testimony in the Pierce case in 2001. Ms. Schile, a forensic chemist, concluded that Ms. Gilchrist's testimony contradicted evidence she had found.

Ms. Gilchrist testified that hair left by the rapist was "microscopically consistent" with Mr. Pierce's hair. But federal investigators said that hair and fibers were misidentified in his case and in at least five others.

Mr. Pierce was freed last May after DNA evidence cleared him. Last week, he filed a lawsuit seeking $75 million and charging that Ms. Gilchrist and Bob Macy, a retired Oklahoma County district attorney, conspired to produce false evidence to convict him.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Gilchrist said Mr. Pierce was exonerated by DNA testing that was unavailable at the time of his trial. She said that police officials and others allowed the public to think her analysis was flawed.




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