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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Paper Trail: Documents Raise Doubts About the SFPD Crime Lab's DNA Unit

Posted By on Tue, Dec 14, 2010 at 4:45 PM

click to enlarge rsz_letterextract.jpg

Problems with the quality of DNA evidence at the San Francisco Police Department Crime Lab, and efforts to conceal those problems by government officials, are extensively documented through letters, reports, and e-mails.

Below are the key records underlying SF Weekly's reporting on the crime lab's DNA section.

DNA Sample Mix-Up

Two letters -- available here and here -- were written by an anonymous whistleblower at the crime lab's DNA unit. Both disclosed the cover-up of a sample switch, reportedly in a homicide case.

Former crime lab director Jim Mudge was notified of the allegations by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD), but wrote a letter denying any knowledge of the incident.

A subsequent ASCLD inspection report found that the sample switch had, in fact, taken place.

Testimony in Murder Case

In 2007, SFPD DNA analyst Cherisse Boland produced a report linking murder suspects Emon Brown and Joc Wilson to DNA found on evidence at the crime scene. In early 2008, she offered sworn testimony describing her findings to a grand jury that indicted the two men.

After Brown and Wilson were found not guilty in February 2010, Boland and Edward Blake -- a forensic analyst employed by Brown's defense lawyer -- exchanged e-mails, available here and here. Blake asserted that Boland had misrepresented her findings in a way that unfairly incriminated Brown and Wilson, and had failed to even try to find a third, unknown individual who was the source of the majority of DNA found on the crime scene evidence.

In April, defense lawyer Tony Tamburello wrote a letter to SFPD Chief George Gascon echoing Blake's complaints and complaining that Boland's conduct in the murder case could "constitute criminal conduct warranting further investigation."

Rockne Harmon report

On Dec. 1, 2010, Paul Henderson, Chief of Administration in the office of DA Kamala Harris, responded to a request from SF Weekly under San Francisco's Sunshine Ordinance for a report, criticizing Boland's conduct in the Wilson/Brown case, that was authored by renowned prosecutor and DNA expert Rockne Harmon. Henderson denied in a letter that the DA's office possessed such a document.

On Dec. 9, 2010, Harmon confirmed in an interview with SF Weekly that he had written the document, and said he was baffled at Henderson's response. "I just hope that however you write this, it leads to a revelation of the criticism I wrote," Harmon said.

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Peter Jamison


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