San Francisco DNA Lab Misconduct May Compromise Hundreds of Criminal Cases


According to an SF Gate article published Monday, there is reason to believe that hundreds of criminal cases in San Francisco may have been compromised by crime-lab misconduct. The individuals in question are crime-lab technician Mignon Dunbar and her supervisor Cherisse Boland, who conducted DNA work used in the prosecution of 1,400 criminal cases. According to SF Gate, Police Chief Greg Suhr said authorities have been looking at cases where Dunbar and Boland’s work led to a conviction. In a statement Monday, Suhr said “We’re going to do a complete audit of any work these criminalists touched. If we do discover there’s any problem, all those cases will be reworked until they’re to the appropriate standard.”

In December, SF Gates reports, Dunbar’s alleged misconduct surfaced in the trial of a child molestation suspect, Marco Hernandez. Allegedly, Dunbar was confronted with a low-quality sample of DNA and made assumptions about missing data. Dunbar submitted two complete genetic profiles for comparison with offenders in the state database, and the results implicated Hernandez. Later, defense attorneys for Hernandez learned that one of the profiles Dunbar submitted didn’t match Hernandez at all.

SF Gate
reports that Dunbar and Boland had both failed a state proficiency test in DNA analysis three months before they were reassigned from the DNA unit in September. Boland’s boss, DNA technical leader Eleanor Salmon, wrote a memo to the head of the crime lab in September in which she said that Dunbar and Boland were the only technicians in the state to get the test wrong. Salmon wrote that Dunbar and Boland shared a “fundamental lack of application and/or understanding of the unit procedures in this instance.”

Years before prosecutors were notified about her failure on the proficiency test in August, Boland’s work had already been put into question. A 2010 internal memo from prosecutor Rockne Harmon said that Boland did an incomplete analysis of DNA in the 2007 killing of a gang leader in Visitacion Valley by two men, writes SF Gate. In the 2007 case, Boland allegedly found DNA from an apparent third person which she neglected to enter into state and federal databases. According to Suhr, Boland remained in her role and there was no clear outcome of the investigation that ensued.

SF Gate
reports that an FBI audit of cases from 2010 revealed that seven out of 100 evidence samples the lab had submitted were not up to standard and should be removed. Deputy Public Defender Chris Schenone, who defended Hernandez, expressed her frustration saying that, “[The crime lab] had gotten into trouble back in 2010 and 2011 and they still weren’t following the rules.”

A task force has been assembled which will look into the crime-lab issues as well as other recent problems in the San Francisco police department. According to Suhr, the audit which is already underway is expected to last about six weeks.

Read the full story.

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