More departures from troubled DC crime lab

More managers appear to have departed from the embattled D.C. crime lab, which saw its accreditation to perform forensic testing withdrawn in the spring amid an investigation over its handling of a ballistics error in a murder case.

Jonathan Pope, the head of the agency’s Firearms Examination Unit, and Lyndon Watkins, the agency’s quality assurance manager, both evidently left the agency last week, while it was also learned that Wayne Arendse, the head of the unit stripped of its accreditation, resigned earlier this month.

The circumstances of Pope’s and Watkins’ evident departures are unclear. Emails to both officials Friday bounced back with replies saying they were no longer with the agency. A DFS spokesman reached by phone Friday did not provide a comment.

Pope had led the Firearms Examination Unit, the epicenter of many of the controversies at the lab, since 2015.

Watkins was hired as the head of quality early last year. He was most recently the agency’s point of contact with the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ABAB) as the agency tries to regain its accreditation.

The apparent departures last week of the two officials were not formally announced to staff, and it’s unclear who is now overseeing the work of the lab’s firearms or quality units.

Arendse, head of the agency’s Forensic Science Laboratory Division, also resigned this month, which has not been previously reported. DFS Interim Director Anthony Crispino notified agency staff that Arendse resigned in a June 16 email.

No reason was given. Crispino thanked Arendse “for his years of service to the District” and wished him well in his future endeavors, according to an email that WTOP obtained.

The Forensic Science Laboratory Division is the specific agency unit that was stripped of accreditation.

Former DFS Director Jenifer Smith, who was appointed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to lead the agency in 2015, stepped down late last month amid rising calls — including by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine — for a broad change in leadership at the lab.

Bowser named Crispino, a lawyer and most recently the general counsel at the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, the interim head of the forensic lab. She also announced she was hiring an outside forensic consulting company, SNA International, based in Alexandria, Virginia, to perform a top-to-bottom review of the agency’s operations as part of an effort to get the lab re-accredited.

The lab’s troubles stem, in part, from a report filed by a team of experts hired by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the D.C. Attorney General’s Office to probe the lab’s handling of the casework error in the murder case.

In that case, the experts said DFS examiners had erroneously concluded that cartridge casings found at the scene of two 2015 shootings were fired by the same gun, and the lab then concealed conflicting findings when examiners were asked to look again at the evidence.

One of those findings was a finding of elimination — meaning the casings were not fired in the same gun.

According to the audit report, the elimination finding was only reported in a PowerPoint document presented to DFS managers, and never disclosed to prosecutors or the agency’s accrediting body.

The lab has claimed the “elimination” was only a “working conclusion.”

According to the audit report, Pope, the firearms unit manager, as well Arendse, the head of the forensic science lab division, were both involved in the PowerPoint meeting in which it was alleged managers decided to report a finding of “inconclusive” to the accrediting board despite the earlier “elimination” finding.

In addition, the firearms unit manager is alleged to have called an examiner tasked with reviewing the evidence into his office to discuss his conclusion. That examiner told auditors he felt pressured by Pope to change his finding to “inconclusive.”

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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