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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Drug Scandal 'Will Be Taken Into Consideration' Regarding S.F. Crime Lab's Accreditation

Posted By on Wed, Mar 10, 2010 at 9:59 AM

The executive director of the nation's largest crime lab accreditation body said the San Francisco lab's drug scandal has not escaped his attention.

"I had a conversation with the [San Francisco] lab today," said Ralph Keaton following allegations 60-year-old technician Deborah Madden used cocaine seized as evidence, compromising an unknown number of cases. "It will be taken into consideration before accreditation is renewed."

When asked what this meant, the North Carolina-based head of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors replied, "It means they will have to satisfy us that whatever issues caused this are corrected before they can be accredited." This, he said, is something San Francisco should do in the next six months.

The explosive allegations surrounding Madden came on the heels of a less than encouraging audit from Keaton's organization, as San Francisco's crime lab attempts to renew its five-year-old accreditation. That report cited the local lab's uncleanliness, failure to keep detailed case records, and -- ahem -- its insecure chain of custody for evidence.

While the timing of such allegations from the official accreditation body is especially poor for San Francisco, Keaton said the problems his group noted in San Francisco are "not the norm -- but not that unusual.

"Many laboratories have some finding related to the chain of custody record. The requirements we have are fairly stringent," he continued. It's not uncommon for a lab to fail to meet some part of that requirement in the chain of custody record. It does not necessarily mean they have a problem that compromised evidence."

Except, according to San Francisco police, they did have a problem that compromised evidence.

San Francisco would also have to be truly exceptional -- in a bad

way -- to fail to receive its accreditation. "It's very unusual for a

lab to not complete the process within a year," Keaton said. "Our whole

mission is to help the lab improve and correct its deficiencies. Very

few labs go through that initial investment and then just drop the


If San Francisco's lab fails to renew its accreditation, it puts the city in a ticklish position. While a number of states require crime labs to be accredited in order to present evidence, California does not. That being said, Keaton could not think of any big-city crime lab that did not have accreditation.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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