Defense expert delivers critical testimony regarding crime lab testing
Forensics expert: Clogs indicate ‘abuse of a sensitive instrument’
Defense expert witness Glenn Hardin, a forensics expert, delivered testimony critical of the St. Paul police department crime lab practices in a hearing Friday morning.
Hardin, a former supervisor of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab, cited numerous concerns about previous testimony given by St. Paul crime lab analysts during the hearings that started in July.
He has attended most of the hearings, or read testimony in the few days he has not been in the courtroom as a paid expert (so far earning $2,550) for the defense.
Hardin said the lab’s lack of venting and equipment maintenance could mean that cancer-causing toxic chemical vapors were dispelled into the lab, possibly exposing not only lab workers but others in the building.
Lab criminalists and supervisors testified Thursday they were unaware of the venting equipment was maintained, or who to call if there were problems with it.
Hardin said every analyst should be aware if there were problems with venting systems and it should be regularly maintained.
None of the witnesses who testified Thursday, including former head of the crime lab Sgt. Shay Shackle, said they ever called anyone to check venting in the lab nor knew if it had been regularly checked per standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Hardin said their lack of standards, the varied methods employees testified that they used when handling drug evidence, and the lack of a chain-of-custody indicates all evidence handled at the lab would be unreliable for retesting.
Hardin said contamination was possible through chemicals in the air, contaminates on surfaces, lab worker’s gloves and testing equipment.
In addition, Hardin said the lab’s lack of validation studies meant there was no way to ensure crime lab surfaces were drug-free between tests, even after they were sprayed with a methanol cleaner that dissolves chemicals including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.
He explained chemicals dissolve at different rates, and there were no standards identified or written standard operating procedures in place to ensure the drugs were sufficiently dissolved before being tested.
Clogs in the split line of the lab’s chromatographs/mass spectrometers indicated to Hardin that the department was “very hard” on the “very sensitive” equipment critical for drug testing.
The clogs, he said, indicated there were more drugs and compounds run through the equipment than appropriate, “a clear demonstration of what I consider an abuse of a sensitive instrument.”
He said contamination could occur from the substances that were found in the clogged line where the testing solution was injected into the machines.
Additionally, sovents used to dissolve the evidence should also have been tested to ensure there were no manufacturing errors, Hardin testified.
Lab workers previously testified they thought their work areas were clean after wiping down of the areas and seeing no residue, a conclusion Hardin called an “unfounded assumption.”
Hardin was also critical of the lab’s lack of a written chain-of-custody regarding drug evidence that left no way to know who came into the lab, where the drugs had been and who had handled them.
He testified there is a “strong potential” evidence handled at the St. Paul crime lab could be contaminated and would be inappropriate for retesting.
Dakota County’s chief deputy prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz emphasized that the county has determined it will not use any evidence tested at the crime lab in its drug cases.
Instead, the county is having the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s crime lab re-test evidence that passed through the St. Paul crime lab, but was never tested there.
Prokopowicz emphasized the accredited BCA lab’s standards and compared them to some of the practices lab workers testified that they used at the St. Paul crime lab.
Under his questioning Hardin said whether there are written standard operating procedures in place, there is always a possibility of contamination.
He also said there is no direct evidence that contamination occurred at the lab in part because there was not proper documentation at the lab.
The hearing will continue Oct. 23.