HPD letting people go (home) from the crime lab

James K. Carpenter was relieved of duty (sent on vacation for six months) from the controlled substance lab on August 3 for not being able to produce evidence. The media release from HPD makes it sound like he’s been consuming the evidence.

 

HPD NEWS RELEASE: STATEMENT ON CRIME LAB EMPLOYEE RELIEVED OF DUTY  

On August 3, 2007, James K. Carpenter, a Criminalist in the Houston
Police Department Crime Lab, was relieved of duty and placed on an
at-home status.  His failure to properly secure controlled substance
evidence has caused an investigation by the department’s Internal
Affairs Division to be initiated.  The Harris County District
Attorney’s office has been notified as has ASCLD-LAB (American
Society of Crime Lab Directors-Laboratory Accreditation Board) which has
granted the Crime Lab its accreditation.

Carpenter, who was hired in October of 2002, routinely worked in the
Controlled Substances Section of the Crime Lab.  He had been counseled
recently about poor attendance which Carpenter attributed to a back
problem.  He was noted to have evidence at his work site that was not
being handled in compliance with Lab protocols.  The Internal Affairs
Division was immediately called to the lab where Carpenter refused to
give a formal statement and submit to a drug test.  He was then
immediately relieved of duty.

Crime Lab Director Irma Rios states that although there was no
indication of improper behavior until last week, as a precaution all of
Carpenter’s work for the last six months will be reviewed (Note:
approximately 200 narcotics cases).  This effort will be coordinated
with the District Attorney’s office.  Ms. Rios said, “While we
obviously have to wait for the outcome of the investigation, this
appears to be an isolated case of one employee not performing properly.
My first line supervisors did their jobs in monitoring Mr. Carpenter’s
attendance and performance, which is one of the checks and balances
needed to guard against a potential problem.”

Chief Harold Hurtt emphasized the tremendous progress made by the Crime
Lab during his tenure as Chief of Police and also sees this as an
isolated incident.  Chief Hurtt would also like to see an increase in
the random drug testing of personnel who routinely encounter controlled
substances as part of their investigations including the Crime Lab and
the Narcotics and Vice Divisions.  Chief Hurtt stated, “I am seeking
an opinion from the City Attorney as to the legality of establishing a
program under which employees assigned to those areas will be subject to
mandatory random drug testing on a more frequent basis.”

8-7-07

Please do not reply to this message. We are unable to respond to
replies or inquiries sent to this e-mail account. For further
information on this release, please contact a Public Information Officer
at 713-308-3280. Thank you.

Aug. 8, 2007, 2:08AM
HPD crime lab worker out; 200 cases in doubt

The Houston Police Department will review about 200 narcotics cases following the suspension of an HPD crime laboratory analyst accused of failing to properly secure evidence in drug investigations.

James K. Carpenter was relieved of duty with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation, HPD officials said this evening.

The news comes in the wake of a two-year, multimillion-dollar independent investigation that reported widespread problems within the department’s crime lab, including poor management, analysts who faked test results and others who tailored their findings to fit police theories of crimes.

According to an HPD statement, Carpenter worked regularly in the controlled substances section of the lab since October 2002 and was recently warned about his poor attendance record, which he blamed on a back problem.

Investigators with the Internal Affairs Division were called to the lab last week following reports that Carpenter “was not handling evidence in compliance with lab protocols.” The criminologist was immediately relieved of duty after refusing to give a formal statement or submit to a drug test, police said.

Department spokesman Gabe Ortiz declined to comment Tuesday, saying “the investigation is in its early stages.”

In the written statement, however, crime lab director Irma Rios said the department will coordinate with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to review all of Carpenter’s work for the last six months — an estimated 200 narcotics cases.

“While we obviously have to wait for the outcome of the investigation, this appears to be an isolated case of one employee not performing properly,” she said. “My first-line supervisors did their jobs in monitoring Mr. Carpenter’s attendance and performance, which is one of the checks and balances needed to guard against a potential problem.”

Police Chief Harold Hurtt said he will seek an opinion from the city attorney to determine the legality of establishing a random drug testing program for all employees who work with controlled substances in the course of investigations, including the crime lab, narcotics and vice divisions.

HPD officials said the department notified the the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors of the ongoing investigation into Carpenter’s work. The society is responsible for granting the crime lab its accreditation.

Carpenter was hired a month before problems at the crime lab became public.

In November 2002, media reports and an audit exposed widespread problems at the HPD lab, including inaccurate work, poorly trained scientists and a substandard facility where rainwater from a leaky roof threatened evidence.

Police officials shut down the DNA division of the crime lab in December 2002, triggering scrutiny that exposed errors in four other divisions, including those that analyze drugs and firearms and casting doubt on thousands of convictions.

During the ensuing controversy, two men, convicted on the basis of faulty evidence, were released from prison. The exoneration of the second man prompted Hurtt to call for an independent inquiry of the crime lab.

In June, independent investigator Michael Bromwich, who was hired by the city, issued the final report of his sweeping $5.3 million investigation of the lab.

Bromwich identified more than 200 cases in which independent scientists reviewing DNA and serology work concluded it was unreliable and some 400 others that investigators say require further review.

Bromwich said officials should take steps — including the hiring of a “special master” — to determine what role blood-typing and DNA evidence played in securing convictions against as many as 600 defendants whose cases were processed at the crime lab between 1980 and 2002. Fourteen of those defendants already have been executed.

Hurtt, Mayor Bill White and Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal agreed that hundreds of cases will require further scrutiny and possibly new testing, but they rejected Bromwich’s suggestion of a special master.

The DNA lab reopened in July 2006 after being re-certified.

CRIME LAB TIMELINE

Problems at the Houston Police Department’s crime laboratory and property room have unfolded during more than four years, with far-reaching consequences:

December 2002: HPD suspends DNA testing at its crime lab after reports and an independent audit expose widespread problems.

January 2003: Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal announces plans to retest DNA evidence from hundreds of cases.

March 2003: Josiah Sutton, convicted with faulty DNA evidence, is released from prison after serving more than four years for a rape he did not commit.

October 2003: The toxicology division, which tests for alcohol and drugs, is shuttered after its head fails a proficiency test.

August 2004: Police Chief Harold Hurtt reveals that evidence from thousands of cases dating back to the 1970s was improperly stored in HPD’s property room.

October 2004: George Rodriguez is released from prison after serving 17 years for a rape he did not commit. He was convicted based on faulty work from the crime lab’s serology division, which analyzes blood types.

March 2005: Independent investigation led by Michael Bromwich begins probe of crime lab and property room.

May 2005: HPD receives accreditation from a national organization for all areas of its crime lab except the DNA-testing division.

June 2006: DNA division resumes testing after receiving accreditation.

June 13, 2007: Bromwich team releases its final report recommending, among other things, free DNA testing in 413 questionable serology cases, and the appointment of a special master to review 180 serology cases with “major issues.”

Tuesday: HPD says it will review about 200 narcotics cases following the suspension of an HPD crime laboratory analyst accused of failing to properly secure evidence in drug investigations.

lindsay.wise@chron.com
steve.mcvicker@chron.com

Aug. 8, 2007, 11:48PM
HPD analyst’s behavior raised red flag with bosses
Lab supervisors questioned him over handling of narcotics

What the head of the Houston Police Department crime laboratory describes as “erratic behavior” was instrumental in the recent suspension of a controlled substances analyst.

The suspension has also triggered the review of about 200 HPD narcotics cases — the latest in a series of scandals that have plagued the crime lab for the past 4½ years.

Analyst James K. Carpenter was relieved of duty with pay Friday pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation. The case has also been brought to the attention of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, according to crime lab director Irma Rios.

Attempts to contact Carpenter were unsuccessful.

Police say Carpenter previously had been warned about poor attendance, which they said he blamed on a back ailment. However, the situation recently peaked when lab supervisors questioned Carpenter about allegedly mishandling evidence, Rios said.

“Evidence should be stored a certain way,” she said Wednesday. “We have a procedure. All evidence should be sealed following a certain procedure. And there was an item that didn’t appear to be properly secured. The questioned employee didn’t make sense — what he was saying, and (his) erratic behavior when you started talking to him.”

Rios said that the evidence in question was a narcotic, but she did not know what kind.

Carpenter was relieved of duty after refusing to give a formal statement or submit to a drug test, according to police.

The analyst’s work in 200 cases over the past six months is now under review. Police spokesman Capt. Bruce Williams on Wednesday refused to say if the defendants and defense attorneys in those cases are being notified of the investigation.

Rios said information about the cases has been given to the district attorney’s office.

Recommendations

In December 2002, the DNA division of the lab was shuttered, and evidence in more that 400 cases was retested.The lab reopened in July 2006.

Problems were also discovered in the controlled substances division.

Two men convicted on the basis of botched HPD evidence were released from prison, prompting Police Chief Harold Hurtt to call for an independent probe.

In June, former U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich issued the last report of his $5.3 million investigation of the lab.

The probe documented widespread problems within the crime lab, including poor management, faulty science, analysts who faked test results, and others who tailored their findings to fit police findings.

Among his numerous recommendations, Bromwich called for the hiring of a special master to review evidence that was used to secure convictions in as many as 600 additional cases. He also recommended the initiation of random drug testing of HPD crime lab employees.

No knowledge of drug test

Rios said that lab workers were already subject to random testing when she took over as lab director in October 2003. Workers can also be tested “for cause,” she said.Rios also added that Hurtt is exploring the legality of increasing the frequency of the random testing.

Via e-mail on Wednesday, Bromwich said Rios’ comment was news to him.

Rios’ “claim to you about the existence of a random drug testing program is the first we’ve heard about it,” Bromwich said.

“We would not have made the recommendation if we believed there was already such a program in place.”

steve.mcvicker@chron.com

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