March 10, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco officials Tuesday ordered the shutdown of all drug testing at the police crime lab amid allegations that a former technician stole and used some of the cocaine she was supposed to analyze.I don’t know why we are shocked that defense lawyers may want to question those in the crime lab as indicated in last year’s U.S. Supreme Court Case Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.
Deborah J. Madden, 60, of San Mateo officially retired this month. An investigation linked her to missing drugs in at least six cases in the latter part of 2009, police said.
She left her job as of Dec. 8 and has recently been in treatment for drugs and alcohol and other unspecified health issues, police said.
Officials discovered that the evidence was missing during a crime lab audit conducted in December, police said. That review was triggered when other technicians suspected someone had been stealing evidence and a supervisor noticed apparent tampering with the packaging of drug evidence, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón said at a news conference Tuesday evening.
"We're being very, very cautious here," Gascón said, calling the matter "disappointing" but stressing that the department is going out of its way to be transparent and to make sure any improprieties are limited to the one former employee.
"It puts the hard work of every other employee of the crime lab into question," the chief said, adding that the department will bring in outside agencies to do a thorough review of the drug-testing section of the crime lab, which had two technicians at the time Madden worked there. She was the supervising criminalist over the testing.
Gascón said that when interviewed as part of the investigation, she had leveled charges of her own about the lack of control over drug evidence. One official said Madden called the drug-testing process at the lab "sloppy."
In her job, Madden was supposed to vouch for the weight and purity of seized drugs but instead used the cocaine, authorities say.
While only the six cases have been discovered where she allegedly skimmed the drugs, the investigation is continuing.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris could not say how many cases might ultimately be jeopardized by the thefts, but said that at least 20 drug cases could be dismissed immediately as a result of the shutdown of the crime lab's drug section.
The evidence in the cases will be retested by either the federal Drug Enforcement Administration or labs in Alameda or San Mateo counties, which would do the testing on San Francisco's behalf.