Problems in Bexar County Texas Too-Integrated Forensic Laboratories LLC

Another day, another headline. Sigh. According to the below email and also the newspaper article, sadly here’s another issue with an accredited laboratory and Quality Assurance.

Here is another one:

Lab errors place Bexar DWI cases under scrutiny

May 22, 2014 | Updated: May 23, 2014 11:38am

SAN ANTONIO — Hundreds of Bexar County driving-while-intoxicated cases now are under scrutiny after a forensic lab contracted by the county fired an analyst accused of turning in sloppy paperwork on several occasions — including once when she recorded names incorrectly on 350 blood samples.

Integrated Forensic Laboratories LLC in Bedford fired the employee, analyst Cherrie Lemon, on May 16 upon determining that she “misplaced, lost or destroyed another analyst’s worksheet,” according to a letter the lab director sent to the Bexar County district attorney’s office.

Multiple phone calls to IFL’s lab director, Dr. Nate Stevens, and several others in the lab’s parent company weren’t returned Thursday.

Stevens’ email states that IFL is conducting an audit to determine which, and how many, DWI cases were affected by the fumbled documentation. The investigation should be complete by May 30, he said.

“We have no indication that there’s anything wrong with the test results, it’s just that she can’t testify,” First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said. “But I imagine there will be quite a few requests for retesting.”

He said there are “several hundred” cases that could be eligible for retesting, which takes a couple of weeks. Because many of the cases still are awaiting trial, Herberg said he doesn’t expect any retesting to cause significant court delays.

Last summer, Lemon was scolded for a separate incident in which she recorded the wrong names on 350 blood alcohol cases, Herberg said, adding it remains undetermined how many of those cases originated locally.

Bexar County has contracted with IFL since February 2013 to analyze about 4,000 samples of blood a year in misdemeanor cases and felonies in which a judge signed a warrant to draw the defendant’s blood.

“She was not following protocols, and they are taking all of the necessary steps,” Herberg said.

But local defense attorneys are more dubious of IFL’s work, and have correspondence detailing additional mix-ups involving Lemon and others. One letter from last August states that while correcting one issue, Lemon found that “many packages” of blood tubes had not been properly sealed before they were refrigerated; in another instance, lab employees left a bottle of acetone in a preparation room that may have contaminated blood samples.

“People do make mistakes, but at this point, it seems a little bit more systemic,” said Robert Featherston, president of the San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “Nobody wants to see anybody convicted on contaminated evidence, and everybody’s real interested in getting this stuff retested, if we can figure out whose blood is whose.”

IFL is accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors-Laboratory Accreditation Board, or ASCLD-LAB, and is recognized by the Texas Department of Public Safety as a state-certified crime lab.

When an incident occurs in the lab, IFL is supposed to submit a disclosure to the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

According to the commission’s lawyer, Lynn Garcia, IFL sent an email Tuesday stating that a disclosure would be filed by May 30. A second disclosure already is on file at the commission, Garcia said, but involves firearms testing that the lab conducted on a New York case.

Garcia said the disclosure will detail the full scope of the problem at the lab and also an extensive action plan. The disclosure will be heard by the commission at its August meeting.

“They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” she said of IFL following protocol in filing their forthcoming disclosure.

Attorneys Jamie “The DWI Dude” Balagia and George Scharmen — who handle about 350 and 500 DWI cases locally a year, respectively — disagree.

“It’s a competency issue with the lab,” Scharmen said. “Are they doing sloppy work? I think they probably are. You’re talking about hundreds of cases.”

Scharmen, whose docket exclusively contains DWI cases, said he’s discouraging people from taking plea deals in any DWI cases these days, as he remains suspicious of the lab’s work. Balagia said he is doing the same.

“How long has her work been impacted? Was this a long-running series of events? We’re going to have to research every case,” Balagia said.

TrichterI like the note at the end that suggests that notification will only happen if the “audit results reveal any issues.” So much for Brady, Giglio and the Michael Morton Act. Sheesh.

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