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Monday, December 5, 2011

Judge Unseals Secret Court Records Detailing Alleged DNA Lab Cover-Up

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2011 at 3:43 PM

Rockne Harmon co-authored a controversial internal memo on crime lab problems
  • Rockne Harmon co-authored a controversial internal memo on crime lab problems

A judge unsealed court records today detailing a whistle-blower's allegations that police and prosecutors might have been involved in an orchestrated effort to mislead auditors about the state of the San Francisco Police Department's DNA-testing lab.

Superior Court Judge Charles Haines ordered that a transcript of a lengthy closed-door interview he conducted with Rockne Harmon, a former consultant on DNA issues to the San Francisco District Attorney's office, be entered into the public record. He had previously ruled that the transcript could be disclosed to defense attorneys under a protective order barring them from sharing it with anyone.

Last week, SF Weekly obtained and published a copy of the transcript, as well as other recrods Harmon provided to Haines, without naming the source of the documents. Today in court, Deputy Public Defender revealed how this took place: He accidentally sent the wrong file to SF Weekly, having intended to only share a document that was already available to the public.

"Needless to say, I was horrified that I had sent the transcript to a reporter," Jacobs said. Upon learning of his error on Monday night, he immediately requested that SF Weekly not publish a story based on the document and informed the DA's office about the mishap.

As a result of this, DA's office Chief of Operations Sharon Woo said today her office was "satisfied" with Jacobs' apology, and that prosecutors would not seek to hold Jacobs in contempt of court, as the DA's office threatened last week. Haines said he would not have held Jacobs in contempt of court even if the DA's office had asked him to, given the accidental nature of the document leak.

Haines dissolved the protective order on the documents today, saying, "Let's let nature take its course from there."

The sealed court transcript reveals Harmon's concerns that a memo he authored criticizing the SFPD DNA lab -- and, in particular, the lab's supervisor, Cherisse Boland -- was deliberately withheld from inspectors from the California Department of Justice because the information might imperil the lab's accreditation.

Harmon gave private testimony to Haines in the murder case of James Mayfield, a Bayview church deacon charged with murdering a young sculptor in 1976. The case against Mayfield rests on DNA evidence analyzed by Boland, so his memo could be used by defense lawyers to discredit her testimony.

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Peter Jamison


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