April 17, 2013 in City

Crime lab work went undone

Worker accused of lying about completing tests on evidence
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A former manager at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Cheney is accused of lying to his boss about completing tests on evidence from at least five cases.

The employee, Kevin Fortney, resigned during the investigation, State Patrol spokesman Robert Calkins said.

He said another employee came forward to report she suspected her boss had not completed certain lab tests he claimed to have done.

WSP has identified at least five cases where evidence went untested. Calkins said the internal investigation is ongoing and the law enforcement agencies that submitted the evidence will be contacted to see what they want done with the evidence.

Calkins said most of the evidence affected was trace evidence from arson cases. Whether convictions resulted in any of those cases is unclear.

“Because this was work that went undone as opposed to work done (sloppily) or poorly, we think the likelihood of a wrongful conviction is very low here,” Calkins said.

He added that the cases were all more than a year old.

An internal audit of the evidence in the lab will be done as well as an investigation into lab practices.

“This is going to be a very thorough look,” Calkins said.

WSP has a history of problems in its labs.

Employee Denise Olson was fired from the crime laboratory in 2011 for shoddy work.

In 2008, the head of the Forensic Laboratory Bureau resigned after ethical lapses and scientific mistakes at the state toxicology lab put thousands of breath-test results into question.

A 2007 audit of the crime lab a month after it lost blood samples in a high-profile case discovered lab workers had lost or broken hundreds of blood vials during a transfer between freezers.

Calkins said the most recent incident is isolated to one employee and is not indicative of a systemic problem in the labs.

Spokane County Public Defender Director John Rodgers said the latest development will cause people on all sides of cases, including police, prosecutors and defenders, to re-examine any convictions to see if Fortney was a part of the case.

“Forensic science is shaky enough in a lot of ways without adding on inaccurate reports and incomplete tests,” Rodgers said.

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