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Thursday, January 6, 2011

DA's Office Belatedly Mails Memo Criticizing Crime Lab to Defense Lawyers

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 5:06 PM

Kamala Harris
  • Kamala Harris

Questions About Secrecy Surrounding Document Persist

The San Francisco District Attorney's Office has quietly begun supplying criminal defense lawyers with an internal memo that criticizes the work of the San Francisco Police Department Crime lab's DNA Unit.

The memo is the same one that officials in the DA's office previously claimed did not exist, and whose origins critics say the office is continuing to misrepresent.

It was written by Rockne Harmon, a veteran prosecutor and former consultant to the DA's office that Attorney General Kamala Harris once called "the guru of DNA evidence in the state."

Harmon concluded in the document that Cherisse Boland, head of the crime lab's DNA section, had written a "misleading" report implicating two suspects in a murder. Both defendants were later acquitted.

Harmon, who wrote the memo in March of last year, recently told SF Weekly he was "concerned" that the DA's office had not heeded his suggestion that it be turned over to defense lawyers, who might use it to call Boland's credibility as a witness into question. Prosecutors are constitutionally obligated to share such materials with criminal defendants.

In a written response to a public records request from SF Weekly, Paul Henderson, chief of administration at the DA's office, initially claimed that Harmon's review of Boland's work did not exist. After we reported on Harmon's account of writing the document last month, the DA's office released the memo in response to a second records request.

Now, defense lawyers say, the document is being shared with them through a mass disclosure -- as Harmon initially suggested. However, questions remain about whether the DA's office is distorting its origins and significance.

In a letter accompanying the document, Sharon Woo, chief of the the criminal division of the DA's office, states that Harmon's memo is part of "an email correspondence between Edward Blake, Cherisse Boland and Rockne Harman [sic] that we believe to be the 'document/report/memo/internal investigation' reflected in news articles regarding the subject of Boland's testimony." (You can read Woo's letter here.)

This contradicts Harmon's own description of his report in past statements to SF Weekly. Harmon said he annotated an email that Boland wrote to Blake, a Richmond-based forensic scientist, defending her work. Harmon picked apart Boland's justification of her methods in long paragraphs inserted into her email. He said he then gave the document to officials at both the DA's office and SFPD to bring their attention to the problems.

The distinction is a significant one. Harmon's account of delivering the document to his higher-ups in the DA's office raises vital questions about who saw the memo -- and who decided not to share it with defense attorneys, in a possible violation of the DA's constitutional obligations. Both Harris, until recently the DA, and SFPD Chief George Gascon denied ever having been aware of the memo or its contents in interviews last month.

An email that Harmon sent on his own initiative to Boland and Blake would have much less significance. Yet Blake emphatically denied that the memo had been emailed to him by Harmon at any point, saying he had seen it for the first time when it was provided to him by SF Weekly.

"While I knew that [Harmon] was preparing a report for the DA's office and I asked him for it, he refused," Blake said, adding, "I would be shocked if Cherisse Boland has ever seen that other than through your [the SF Weekly] website."

Throughout his memo, Harmon refers to Boland in the third person, further calling into question Woo's assertion to defense lawyers that his writings were part of a "correspondence" with her. The document also lacks any email address or subject line backing up Woo's assertion that Harmon sent it to Boland or Blake.

Woo and Boland did not return calls seeking comment. Harmon, who has declined to talk about his memo after an initial interview with SF Weekly, also would not comment on Woo's letter.

Henderson, who initially denied the memo's existence, referred questions about who received the memo to Erica Derryck, a spokesperson for the DA's office. "She's the one that has that information," he said.

Derryck declined to identify the document's recipients or provide any information about where it came from within the office. "I don't have any additional information on that at this time," she said.

Follow our continuing coverage of the SFPD Crime Lab scandal.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF

and @SFWeekly 

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Peter Jamison


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