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Houston Police Lab Review Finds Lax Supervision, Possible Misconduct

Associated Press Writer

HOUSTON- An independent review of the troubled Houston police crime lab has uncovered a six-year gap in supervision in the DNA section and allegations of scientific fabrication by analysts.

Independent investigator Michael Bromwich said Tuesday it appears the lab's shuttered DNA/Serology section became dysfunctional in the mid-1990s when infighting and conflicts developed between two of its administrators.

Deficient work by lab analysts resulted from lack of resources to hire and retain qualified analysts, as well as a shortage of supervision and management, Bromwich said.

In addition, he said initial examination of data from the lab has uncovered a practice called "drylabbing," which is considered the most egregious form of misconduct in a forensic lab.

Bromwich said his team has been told of four instances between 1998 and 2000 in which controlled substance analysts may have created false documentation to reflect analytical procedures that were never performed. In each case, the alleged fabrication was detected by a supervisor who "took swift and appropriate action."

Houston Police Sgt. Nathan McDuell said the lapses under another administration have been acknowledged and steps have been taken to correct them.

"Checks and balances have been put in place to make sure these type of things don't occur again," he said.

The first phase of Bromwich's investigation began March 30 and is expected to last through June. The second phase, expected to begin this summer, will include a case review of forensic investigations handled by the lab.

The lab's DNA section was closed in late 2002 after an outside audit revealed serious deficiencies, including a lack of training for workers and possible evidence contamination.

The police department is using outside contractors for DNA testing but hopes to resume DNA testing by the end of the year.

Earlier this month, the department gained accreditation of its controlled substances, toxicology, questioned documents, firearms and serology sections.

Since early 2003, the police department and the Harris County District Attorney's office have worked with outside labs to review 407 criminal cases involving DNA testing performed by the police lab. One man has been released from jail and pardoned based on retesting in his rape case.

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