DC attorney general demands release of report probing DC crime lab

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is calling on the mayor’s office to immediately turn over a report probing the District’s troubled crime lab, or he will “invoke legal processes to obtain it.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser hired forensic consulting firm SNA International in late May to complete a “top-to-bottom audit” after the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) lost its accreditation to perform forensic testing amid allegations lab managers concealed conflicting findings in a murder case and the former director resigned.

Interim DFS Director Anthony Crispino testified at a D.C. Council hearing this fall that the report would be released by the end of November and he pledged that it would be made public.

The report has not been publicly released as of Wednesday.

In a letter Wednesday to D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Chris Geldart, Racine said he learned a copy of the report had been provided to the mayor’s office last week. He said his office requested a copy from the mayor’s office, but he has still not received it.

“The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (OAG) must review the report to meet our obligations in our ongoing juvenile and criminal proceedings,” Racine wrote. “Although we have requested it, we have not received it. Please immediately provide the report to OAG, or we will invoke legal processes to obtain it. I also urge you to publicly release the report as part of the important process of restoring public confidence in the lab.”

Reached via email, three members of the Science Advisory Board, a panel of outside scientific experts that advises DFS, told WTOP they had not yet received the report, either.

Racine said his office, which prosecutes juvenile offenses and adult misdemeanors in D.C., must review the report because it will likely have to turn it over to defense attorneys to comply with constitutional and ethical obligations.

In addition, his office is working to review past convictions in which DFS provided forensic analysis to determine if faulty work resulted in improper convictions.

In the letter, Racine said his office still not does have “an adequate accounting of the nature and scope of the deficiencies at DFS,” and that “SNA’s report is therefore critical to OAG’s development of the conviction integrity review necessitated by DFS’s failures.”

Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes felonies in D.C., also said they will review whether past guilty verdicts could have been compromised by faulty forensic analysis, but that they were waiting on the final SNA report to determine how far-reaching the review will be.

In an emailed statement provided to WTOP Dec. 10, Geldart, the deputy mayor said, “Mayor Bowser commissioned the work of the SNA to ensure a full accounting of what has or has not been done by the DFS in its role in processing forensic evidence. Our sole concern has been, and continues to be, ensuring the integrity of the justice process. As my office continues to review the report, we will evaluate what steps must be taken to address these concerns and ensure transparency.”

Last year, Racine’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. retained a team of experts to review the work of the lab’s Firearms Examination Unit, following the discovery of a botched analysis that falsely linked cartridge casings from two 2015 killings to the same gun.

DFS declined to cooperate with the experts’ review, characterizing it as an attack on its status as an independent crime lab not tied to a police department or prosecutor’s office.

Later, the experts filed a scathing report, disclosed in D.C. Superior Court in late March, alleging that senior lab managers buried a conflicting, exculpatory finding in a murder case and may have pressured examiners, who were tasked with looking into the error, to reach an “inconclusive” finding on the matter.

The ANSI National Accreditation Board, which accredits forensic labs across the country, suspended and then withdrew DFS’ accreditation this spring, citing credible evidence of “misrepresentations and fraudulent behavior.”

The lab initially appealed its loss of accreditation, arguing it never deliberately concealed information and the exculpatory finding that was never disclosed outside the agency represented only a “working conclusion.” The lab later withdrew that appeal.

Under the terms of the $764,000 contract D.C. signed with SNA International to review the lab with an aim of getting it re-accredited to perform forensic testing, the report into the “root cause” of the lab’s problems was originally due by the end of August.

Crispino told D.C. Council member Charles Allen at an oversight roundtable in mid-October that the company sought an extension until the end of November.

By the time of the hearing, Crispino had already taken some action based on what he described as preliminary recommendations of the SNA audit team, including abruptly disbanding the lab’s Firearms Examination Unit and laying off its 11 remaining employees.

During the hearing, Crispino told council members the agency might need time past the November deadline to review the report to redact some personally identifiable information, “but the sum and substance that gets at the root cause, the current state of the agency and its operations and how we move forward now — that needs to be put out publicly so that everybody has a chance to look it,” Crispino said in October.

In a follow-up exchange with D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto, Crispino said the report would “absolutely” be publicly released.

In his letter, Racine said the public release of the report “is necessary to begin building back confidence in DFS” and he urged the lab to immediately make the report publicly available.

Racine said his goal is to work with the mayor’s office and the current leadership of DFS “to develop a path forward so that OAG can begin using DFS again. A critical component of that, however, is ensuring that OAG, other stakeholders, and the public have confidence that an adequate and independent review of DFS was conducted and that necessary reforms have been implemented. Failure to provide SNA’s report to the public will undermine these efforts.”

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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