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Washington State Crime Lab Chief Resigns
The fallout mainly stemmed from hundreds of DUI cases that were improperly handled by Ann Marie Gordon during her stint as a manager at the Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau. Gordon falsely claimed to have verified solutions used to ensure the accuracy of DUI tests; when Logan was informed there was a problem with the ethanol-water solution, he assigned Gordon to investigate not realizing that she was the culprit.
Gordon admitted she had certified tests that were not performed, and resigned on July 20, 2007; she did not, however, face perjury charges. The King County prosecutor’s office said there was “little to be accomplished by any criminal prosecution,” claiming the public had “not suffered any harm.”
As a result of Gordon’s conduct, over 100 DUI cases were placed on hold while letters were sent to 130 people whose cases had already been tried, as they now have grounds to challenge the results. “I call it ‘Ann Marie Gordon and the Temple of Perjury,’” remarked Kenneth Fornabai, president of the Washington Foundation for Criminal Justice. “It represents a departure from integrity so profound that you can’t believe anything about the lab.”
Defense attorney Francisco Duarte explained that “too many things went wrong on [Logan’s] watch. I believe he wanted to run a laboratory that was based on integrity – and ultimately he failed to do so.”
Three panels of judges agreed. Skagit County judges criticized the way the lab was run but ultimately decided to allow the DUI test results to stand. Snohomish County judges weren’t as lenient. They ruled that the questionable lab results were inadmissible in their courts.
The harshest criticism came from a three-member panel of King County District Court Judges. In a scathing 29-page ruling the jurists criticized the “multiplicity of errors” in what they called a “culture of compromise, ethical lapses, systemic inaccuracy, negligence and violations of scientific principles.” By their estimation thousands of DUI cases were suspect, and they attributed much of the blame to Logan.
Problems at the state labs were not limited to questionable DUI test results. Many of the state’s firearm cases are now also suspect because lab examiner Evan Thompson’s reports were found to be fraught with errors. Thompson’s work was scrutinized after a mistake was discovered in a high-profile SWAT shooting case. An auditor then examined 13 of his most complicated firearm cases, and found errors in all of them; the state issued amended reports in three of those cases. Thompson resigned, but he had been on staff as a firearm and tool-mark examiner since 1995.
“Evan Thompson is not the first person we have let go from this organization,” Logan said on February 14, 2008, the day he tendered his resignation. “If I looked at a crime laboratory that didn’t have to fire anybody, I would be worried. Of course people make mistakes.”
Not everyone makes mistakes that can result in wrongful convictions and lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty, though. In October, 2007, the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers called for an independent investigation into the state’s crime labs based on the shoddy work by Gordon and Thompson.
To provide damage control, State Patrol Chief John Batiste asked Logan to step down. “Barry has done an excellent job of addressing the issues during this difficult period,” said Batiste. “But he and I agree that forward momentum will require different leadership ... in order to move the lab to the next level and fully restore full confidence of the lab to the citizens and the judiciary system.”
For his own part, Logan took full responsibility for the lapses. “I feel a great deal of responsibility when there are errors made that undermine public confidence in our ... program,” he said.
Logan had been both the state toxicologist and the head of Washington’s Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau. The Forensic lab is now managed by Larry Hebert, while Dr. Fiona Couper will serve as state toxicologist.
In April 2008, Washington’s Forensic Investigations Council recommended improvements at the crime labs, finding that recent problems had cast a “cloud of doubt” over the integrity of the state’s forensic investigations. The Council’s recommendations included more staffing, additional inspections and stronger accreditation criteria, which supplemented dozens of other suggested changes made in earlier audits. A more basic reform, making the crime lab an independent agency rather than an appendage of police and prosecutors, was not made.
PLN has previously reported on problems and substandard work at Washington’s crime labs. [See: PLN, March 2006, p.28; Feb. 2003, p.10].
Sources: The Seattle Times, Law & Politics, Associated Press, www.komonews.com, Post Intelligencer
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