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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Prosecutor Apologizes for Handling of Crime Lab DNA Scandal

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 11:24 AM

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A prosecutor in the office of District Attorney George Gascón apologized last week to defense lawyers for his failure to turn over potentially exculpatory documents indicating that a mix-up of DNA samples took place at the San Francisco Police Department crime lab in 2008.

Assistant District Attorney Kin Tong, during a hearing before Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo, told two defense attorneys that there was "no excuse" for the withholding of an inspection report that revealed the sample switch had taken place and that records of the mistake had been destroyed.

"There's really no excuse for it," Tong told defense lawyers Doug

Rappaport and David Wise. "But I really do apologize to counsel for

having to find out about it the way they did."

Wise and Rappaport obtained the inspection report from SF Weekly shortly before we first reported on the inspection and other problems at the crime lab's DNA unit two months ago.

Tong's apology marks the first time any official with the district attorney's office has publicly admitted a mistake in the handling of the DNA lab scandal.

In May, following an earlier scandal at the crime lab -- the theft of drugs by narcotics technician Debbie Madden -- Massullo ordered the office of former DA Kamala Harris to develop a policy for obtaining potentially exculpatory information from the police department and disclosing it to defense lawyers on an ongoing basis.

Rappaport, while he accepted the apology, asserted that Tong was not "personally responsible" for the error and that more senior officials in the DA's office and SFPD need to be held to account.

"Frankly, there was a cover-up here," Rappaport said. "This court found out about it almost blindly, because of a (public-records request) by the press... at some point, somebody needs to be held accountable. There needs to be some consequence for the police department."

Rappaport and Wise had asked Massullo to dismiss two defendants' rape cases because of problems at the DNA lab and their subsequent concealment by police and prosecutors.

Massullo indicated that she would not grant the motion to dismiss, but said she would rule in the coming weeks on whether a full evidentiary hearing devoted to problems with the SFPD's DNA evidence is necessary. 

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Peter Jamison

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