Analysts in Houston’s police crime lab failed to report evidence that might have helped criminal suspects, and they made errors in almost one-third of the cases reviewed in a test sample, says an independent investigator’s report quoted by the Houston Chronicle. The problems amounted to “a near-total breakdown” in the DNA and serology divisions over a 15-year period, Michael Bromwich said. Police Chief Harold Hurtt said three lab analysts criticized in the 82-page report have been suspended. The report and discipline are the latest troubles for the Police Department’s crime lab, where problems first revealed three years ago have spread to five divisions of the lab and cast doubt on thousands of cases.
“It is clear from this report that technology was ahead of our ability – in terms of salaries and support from the department – to hire qualified employees,” Hurtt said. “This is a disappointing, but a necessary, step toward regaining public confidence.” Last month, a panel of experts reviewed serology work at the request of the Chronicle and found what they called examples of sloppy technique, including an analyst performing tests in a courtroom rather than a laboratory. The work was done by many of the same analysts who later went on to form the DNA division.