El Paso Crime Lab in the Hot Seat

Thursday, July 7, 2011 - 5:38pm

EL PASO - Our city's crime lab is under the microscope, tonight. The El Paso laboratory that analyzes illegal drugs in criminal cases is on probation. This is after serious concerns were raised over the way personnel at the lab analyze controlled substances.

Not a week goes by, without us hearing about a drug bust at the border. But, what if the local agency responsible for testing those illegal drugs isn't doing its job right? That's what the El Paso Police Department is grappling with now.

"On June 27th of this year, the department who was trying to gain extra accreditation for our crime lab in the processing of controlled substances, was found to be deficient in certain areas,” said Police Chief Greg Allen.

Just some of the findings included in a 23-page report by the accrediting agency found that a lab worker identified a substance as cocaine when it was not; that a lab analyst had "significantly flawed deductive reasoning capabilities”; and that in one case, investigators found a switched drug sample.

The police department lab handles evidence in hundreds of criminal cases, so what now?

"We are notifying criminal defense lawyers, that the lab has been placed on probation, and there are things and corrective action that they need to take place and I'm sure that those lawyers will then do what they need to do in order to respond and make sure their clients are protected,” said District Attorney Jaime Esparza.

Esparza also said that “another step” was going to be taken if there were “misidentifications” in criminal drug cases.

An independent agency will be reviewing the last six months of casework at the lab. For now, all analysis work at the lab is suspended, with the exception of marijuana testing. The police department hopes to patch everything up, by September.

"The perceptions that that may cause, and the probation status, is something that the department has to look at seriously because we are trying to maintain the best practices of law enforcement,” said Chief Allen.

The district attorney's office said it was notified about this report on Friday, July 1st. Local 4 will stay on this story and let you know when there are any updates.

For a full assessment on the report, visit the board's website: http://www.ascld-lab.org

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