DC leaders have mixed outlook after crime lab loses accreditation

D.C. leaders are reacting to word that the District’s crime lab is now fully unaccredited. While Mayor Muriel Bowser affirms the lab has appealed the decision, the future of lab operations is in question.

After learning the Department of Forensic Sciences had its accreditation completely withdrawn on Sunday, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said of the lab director, “I would say I don’t have confidence.”

Mendelson, who wrote the legislation that requires DFS to have accreditation to operate, said it’s critical that the District has an independent lab.

“What we’ve seen across the country over the years is that when you don’t have an independent lab, then it just becomes a mess, either for the prosecutor or for the police, and that’s not in the interest of justice or public safety. So we want the best lab there can be. The legislature requires it has to be accredited,” Mendelson said.

However, it is not. Its accrediting body, ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) alerted the lab it was in the process of withdrawing accreditation last month after learning the D.C. inspector general’s office had opened a criminal investigation into the lab, in part based on allegations that managers concealed findings and misled its accrediting body.

Now the question becomes how the lab moves forward until ANAB responds to its appeal. Testifying on behalf of the lab last week, the deputy mayor for public safety, Chris Geldart, asserted the lab did not need accreditation to work, despite pushback from committee chair Charles Allen.

During that hearing, National Association of Government Employees union representatives who spoke for DFS employees called for a “fresh start” in the lab’s leadership and for its director, Jenifer Smith, to resign.

Bowser would not go as far.

“I think we have a question to ask ourselves as a District, and that is if we want to independent forensics lab or not [sic]. And to be honest with you, the questions around that, I am still wrestling with,” Bowser said when asked at a news conference about her confidence in her appointee, Smith, a day after the lab lost accreditation under her direction.

WTOP reached out to the mayor’s office seeking clarification on what the mayor meant by that statement and did not get a response.

“I know we’re going to open up again. That’s not going to be an issue. We will get accredited again,” Smith said to members of the independent Scientific Advisory Board on Friday.

“How we can help our branding, or whatever you want to call it in marketing, I will need your advice on how to do that,” she said before the meeting closed its doors to the public to discuss the investigation.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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