New Crime Lab Update Reveals Still More Problems

An independent investigator has dug-up more dirt in the Houston Police Department's crime lab, but is now nearing the end of a probe that has led to revelations of a history of sloppy work, but also big reforms. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams has the latest.

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The latest update in Michael Bromwich's investigation is the fifth progress report since his team began its work last year. It shows more trouble in the lab's serology and DNA sections, a total of 93 cases going back as far as 1980 in which there are serious doubts about the accuracy of the test results. Bromwich says most of the case reviews are complete as the investigation moves into a new phase.

"We're going to be devoting a significant amount of time to both figuring out what the lab is currently doing, what procedures they're following, doing that by reviewing some cases that they've done recently, and then going on from there to develop a series of recommendations that we hope and think will be helpful to the lab, the police department and the entire criminal justice system."

Bromwich says he's still been unable to interview some key members of the old staff at the lab, including the former director and other employees who refuse to cooperate with the investigation. He says the lack of subpoena power has slowed the probe, but hasn't stopped investigators from getting good information.

"I don't want people to think that we have been sort of stymied or that we haven't been able to do our job, but there are unanswered questions that only getting access to these witnesses would be able to successfully answer. I'm an optimist and I keep hoping we'll have a solution, but right now we don't have one."

The investigation began in April of last year and has included reviews of hundreds of old cases and dozens of interviews. Several sections of the crime lab have gotten high marks from investigators, including firearms, toxicology and documents examination. Bromwich says it may be time to move forward.

"I think the kind of historical work that we've done has its value, but everybody wants to move on. We now know pretty fully what the warts were historically, particularly in DNA and serology. People want the lab to get better and have it be a top level forensic science laboratory."

Rocky Robinson is a member of HPD's Crime Lab Stakeholders Committee, a group put together to monitor the Bromwich investigation. He says it appears things have changed at the lab.

"A lot of the things that are coming to light happened a long time ago. That doesn't excuse them at all, but the HPD crime lab today, the employees who work there and the people who manage it, it's a whole new team and to my knowledge they're doing a very good job and they're dedicated folks and they're dedicated to making this crime lab one that others can look to as a model."

Bromwich says he hopes to have his final report ready by the end of the summer.

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