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Lawyers Allege Gunshot Residue Contamination at Baltimore Police Dept.

BALTIMORE (AP) -- At least two convicts and nearly a dozen defendants awaiting trial say gunshot residue contamination remain a problem at for the Baltimore Police Department.

City police say it's not an issue.

But some lawyers say that even after the department changed testing methods in 2001 to reduce the risk of false positives, tests show a cleaning bucket and a floor at the department's headquarters contained enough gunshot residue to be convicted of serious criminal offenses.

"Obviously, neither the cleaning bucket nor the floor, both inanimate objects, fired a gun," attorney Jack Rubin wrote in a motion for a new trial for Dainer Baker, convicted in April of attempted second-degree murder.

"Notwithstanding, both contained one unique gunshot residue particle when tested," Rubin wrote. "Seeing as these test results were certainly false positives, why should (Baker) not have had the opportunity to argue to the jury that his test result, likewise showing the presence of only one unique gunshot residue particle, was also a false positive?"

The police department conducted the tests on the bucket and floor in November. When the results were released in March, the bucket, the floor and an officer's handcuffs were among items found to each have a single gunshot residue particle.

Assistant Public Defender Michele Nethercott is using the results as she seeks a new trial for Tyrone Jones, 27. Jones was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for later this month.

Edgar F. Koch Sr., who is in charge of the police department's crime lab, said a particle on the floor could have come in on someone's shoe and there could be a particle in the bucket where cleaning swabs are disposed.

Koch said police stopped in 2001 a practice of conducting gunshot residue testing at local police stations. Two had live firing ranges on site, which can increase contamination problems.

Officers also began to cover the hands of people they arrest with "breathable" gunshot residue bags approved by the department's laboratory section. Suspects are brought to police headquarters and tested in a specially designated gunshot residue collection room, Koch said. The desk and chair surfaces in the room where suspects are processed are wiped before and after processing with a solution that prevents inadvertent residue transfer, Koch said.

"The only way someone could get contamination is if you took the bags off and dragged his hands back and forth across the floor," he said.

Rubin nor Nethercott declined to discuss their clients' cases prior to argument next month.

Other people awaiting trial plan to raise the same issues, claiming the possibility that the residue came from contamination within the police department rather than from a crime scene casts reasonable doubt on the charges against them.

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