Report Faults Nassau County Police, Officials for Crime Lab Failures

The lab was shut down in February after repeated failures.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Nine months after a Long Island crime lab was shut down because of repeated and widespread errors, an inspector general has issued a 170-page report criticizing officials for failing to act on signs that the lab was rife with problems. Jonathan Dienst has more.

    Nine months after a Long Island crime lab was shut down because of repeated and widespread errors, an inspector general has issued a 170-page report criticizing officials for failing to act on signs that the lab was rife with problems.

    The report by Inspector General Ellen Biben points out "profound failures" over an eight-year period and says little was done to correct the problems.

    The inspector general report estimates that, as a result of the errors, as many as 10 percent of all criminal drug tests performed at the lab were problematic.

    The lab suffered from "weak leadership, a dysfunctional quality management system, analysts with inconsistent training and qualifications, and outdated and incomplete testing procedures," the report said.

    "The chronic failures of the Nassau County crime lab deprived Nassau County, the criminal justice system and the public of their right to have complete and unfettered confidence in forensic testing," Biben said.

    The inspector general's most scathing criticism was for the police department itself. The report said problems were "exacerbated" because top police officials were not "appropriately attentive" to the Forensics Evidence Bureau, even though there were many warning signs of failures.

    The police department had no immediate comment.

    The report also places blame on Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice for not knowing about the failures sooner.

    Even though the lab was placed on probation in 2006, Rice said she was not aware of any problems at the lab until 2010.

    “Up to that point, she and her office took for granted the reliability of the evidence provided by the FEB – a confidence that, in this instance, was misplaced,” the report said.

    A Rice spokesman said the DA was not made aware of the problems by any county agencies until 2010, and added she agrees better communication is needed.

    Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi is also criticized in the report.

    Investigators said even though Suozzi had oversight responsibilities, he deferred it to the Nassau County police.

    An email to Suozzi was not immediately returned.

    The lab was shut down in February after major concerns were raised about the integrity of the testing being performed there. The lab had been placed on probation in December 2010, for a second time in four years, after an initial warning for testing-related problems.

    Defense lawyers are now raising questions about many drug convictions in Nassau County and lawsuits are moving forward amid allegations of testing flaws and mistakes. 

    The inspector general did not find any criminal wrongdoing amid members of the lab staff or their overseers.  But the report blasted the police department’s "weak management and poor quality assurance system."   

    The series of oversight failures also extended to the state’s Forensic Commission, which did not respond to news of problems at the lab.

    Biben’s report calls for the county medical examiner’s office to take charge of all crime lab testing.

    It calls for better training and higher minimum standards for drug testing. The report also calls for routine lab inspections that are shared with county leaders and law enforcement agencies.