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Crime Lab Confidential: DA and SFPD Withheld Damaging Memo About DNA Lab Failings 

Wednesday, Aug 24 2011
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Page 5 of 5

Last week, officials in the Public Defender's office said they plan to subpoena Harmon and the documents he possesses in an ongoing homicide case. The specific case hinges in part on DNA evidence analyzed by Boland. However, Adachi says his office plans to use information provided by Harmon in other cases, arguing that any DNA evidence, even that tested by other analysts, could be impeached based on the contents of Harmon's full memo.

"This evidence has obvious relevance to any criminal case involving Cherisse Boland," Adachi says. "It also would be relevant to any case involving DNA evidence. It goes to the practice and protocol of testing DNA evidence in that lab."

In June, David Wise, a private defense attorney, sought to obtain documentation produced by Harmon in pretrial hearings in a rape case. Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that it wasn't relevant so early in the court proceedings because Boland had not worked on the case, but Wise says he will seek to subpoena Harmon and obtain his full memo at his client's trial.

A more wide-ranging question concerns the consequences of the repeated failures by the SFPD and DA's office to disclose Harmon's criticisms to outside inspection agencies. Harmon, in particular, has questions about whether the DNA lab can still lay claim to its accreditation if facts emerge indicating that law-enforcement officials deliberately concealed damaging information from auditors.

"If there is withholding of negative information from inspectors — and that's a big if — that would seem to undermine the integrity of the whole investigative process," Harmon says.

Ralph Keaton, executive director of ASCLD/LAB, says that Harmon's memo was not shared with inspectors from his organization. "To my knowledge, the answer is no," Keaton says. He adds that he cannot determine whether that omission would compromise the San Francisco crime lab's accreditation until he knows what is in the report.

Shum Preston, spokesman for the California DOJ, says that state auditors were not given Harmon's memo. He also says he does not know whether the withholding of the report would invalidate the lab's success in the audit, and declined to make the auditors who visited the lab available for comment.

Preston's boss is Attorney General Kamala Harris, who might have something at stake in questions about the memo's suppression. In December, both Harris and Gascón — at the time San Francisco's DA and police chief, respectively — said they had no knowledge of Harmon's memo. Today, Harmon says he does not know whether Harris was apprised of the report or its contents. "I never dealt with her. I would see her once in a while in the hallway," he says. Gascón declined to comment through his public-relations office.

Both the findings of Harmon's memo and the unexplained failures on the part of police and prosecutors over the past six months to share the report or describe it accurately in public statements could revive questions about ethical and scientific lapses related to the crime lab. They could call into question the soundness of evidence used in much more significant and emotionally charged cases — rapes, murders, assaults, burglaries, and more — than the low-level narcotics cases affected by the now-resolved scandal in the lab's drug unit.

Such consequences have so far been forestalled by misinformation. Now Harmon is preparing to take the stand and tell his story. Once the whole truth is out, some of San Francisco's highest-ranking law-enforcement officials could have some things to explain.

About The Author

Peter Jamison

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