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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

DA Candidates Call for Release of Secret Crime Lab Memo, Citing SF Weekly Cover Story

Posted By on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 2:17 PM


Contenders in this year's election for San Francisco District Attorney have called on current DA George Gascón to release an internal memo that criticizes procedures for analyzing DNA evidence at the San Francisco Police Department Crime Laboratory.

The memo, the existence of which was first revealed by SF Weekly, was authored by Rockne Harmon, a veteran Alameda County prosecutor and nationally esteemed expert on DNA evidence. In 2010, Harmon, who was working as a consultant for the San Francisco DA's office, criticized the work of forensics analyst Cherisse Boland and concluded she had produced a "misleading" report on DNA evidence in a homicide case.

The circumstances behind its writing were reported on in our Aug. 24, 2011 cover story, "Crime Lab Confidential."

In a joint statement released today that cites our story, DA candidates Sharmin Bock, Bill Fazio and David Onek assert that the failure of prosecutors working under Gascón to disclose the memo to defense attorneys could be a constitutional violation under the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, which requires prosecutors to share information that can help defendants' cases.

"Instead of taking the approach of ignoring, denying, and delaying, George Gascón should deal with legitimate concerns in the DA's office and figure out how to fix them," they said in the statement. "This is a failure of leadership that is jeopardizing the hard work of our city's prosecutors. George Gascón should immediately disclose the Harmon memo and confront the issues troubling the DNA Crime Lab. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and obfuscation will only make the problems fester."

When initially asked about the memo by SF Weekly, the DA's office denied the document existed. Later, it released an incomplete portion of the memo, claiming that it was not a formal report but an e-mail Harmon sent to a private party.

However, as we reported last month, records show that Harmon submitted his memo directly to Russ Giuntini, who at the time was the top staff attorney in the DA's office. Harmon also asserts that the report was co-authored by Braden Woods, the chief of the criminal division of the DA's office, and discussed with former SFPD Interim Chief Jeff Godown and police Capt. David Lazar. He says his full memo, which analyzed the handling of DNA evidence at the crime lab, is still being kept under wraps.

Harmon has said that the secrecy surrounding the report disturbs him. He particularly questions the decision by SFPD officials to withhold his memo from lab auditors with the California Department of Justice and American Society of Crime Lab Directors.

"What happened is wrong, not following up on [the memo] or discussing it or sharing it," he told us last month. "It is germane to future legal issues. It's just something I'm not used to seeing as a prosecutor."

Defense attorneys have said they plan to subpoena Harmon in upcoming cases in which his report could be used to attack the credibility of police DNA analysts. Harmon has said he is willing to release his memo and other documents in his possession in formal courtroom proceedings, but not to the press.

Expect the memo to come up at DA candidate debates tonight at the Potrero Hill Democratic Club and tomorrow night at the Bar Association of San Francisco. Now that Harmon's report is becoming a political as well as a legal issue, Gascón and his lieutenants might find it harder to keep it from seeing the light of day.

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Peter Jamison


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