A scathing new Houston Police Crime Lab report places blame on department and city leaders for a lack of resources and supervision in the 15 years before the lab’s problems became public. Independent Investigator Michael Bromwich has found that there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Bromwich’s third report places blame for the crime lab’s troubles squarely on a lack of strong leadership, little funding and low morale. “The head of the lab seldom met with the lab analysts and provided little oversite over his managers, including the manager of the DNA section,” says Bromwich. “This explains why the head of the lab was shocked at the results of the December 2002 outside audit of the DNA section, which resulted in its closure. No one well-informed about what was happening in the DNA section would have had that reaction.”
The report details the absence of key supervisors within the DNA section of the crime lab and the discontinuation of lab-wide quality control audits in 1997. It says until 2002, the lab had never undergone an outside inspection. Bromwich says the blame goes all the way up to the mayor’s office.
The report also talks about the lab’s chronically leaking roof and flood damage during Tropical Storm Allison. It details woeful conditions inside a police property room, where evidence was damaged by rats. Houston city councilmen and Crime Lab Stakeholders Committee member Adrian Garcia says the report is embarrassing, but necessary. “In real simple terms, this is how the cow ate the cabbage,” says Garcia. “It strikes a huge nerve, but I’m glad it does, because we need to bring confidence back to this crime lab. This was never intended to be something that we wanted to not have the truth about, and that’s what we got.”
Mayor Bill White says city council will vote on a capital improvement project next week that includes a new, $10 million police property room. He says the city is not ignoring the problem.
The third and final phase of Bromwich’s report begins next month and will include reviews of 2000 cases and the in-depth reviews of about a half-a-dozen specific cases.