The Houston Police Department plans to reopen part of its toxicology division in about two weeks, with one of the analysts disciplined in the city’s DNA lab fiasco assigned to test blood and urine for alcohol, reports the Houston Chronicle. More than three months after the police department halted toxicology testing because the division supervisor failed a competency test, little progress has been made toward retesting cases with evidence that she analyzed.
The decision to choose a disciplined analyst to to restart the division comes just two weeks after a review panel reinstated a fired DNA analyst. The Chronicle says the cases raised “concerns among observers who say HPD may never correct problems at its crime lab if it continues to use such analysts.” “The fact that they can’t fire anybody means they will have to shuffle people from one job to another,” said William Thompson, a University of California-Irvine professor who helped expose some of the Houston problems. “But it doesn’t matter where you put the weak link, the chain will still break.”
HPD shut down the toxicology division of its crime lab in October after the supervisor, Pauline Louie, failed a competency test. Louie, a 28-year HPD veteran, was one of the lab’s highest ranking analysts. She worked in and oversaw numerous areas such as arson and breath analysis of suspected drunken drivers. The police department has identified about 475 cases in which Louie performed toxicology tests. But prosecutors have not begun to match those case numbers to actual defendants, who must be notified of the review, or to select from that list which cases warrant new tests. District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said, “I want to resolve it as quickly as we can because we are facing situations where people may have been convicted on evidence that was not there.”