Critic Warns Against Piecemeal Reform Of NC Investigative Agency


The task of reforming the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, as Attorney General Roy Cooper promised to do, will be complicated by civil lawsuits, potential criminal investigations, and other attempts to hold the agency accountable for decades of misconduct, says the Raleigh News & Observer. Cooper promised reforms after a flood of bad news about the agency. A damning audit showed that lab analysts had misrepresented or hidden test results in 230 cases involving blood work. That audit followed a News & Observer series showing that SBI agents twisted reports and court testimony when facts threatened to undermine their cases. A 2009 audit found that an agent was working unsupervised while he ignored evidence of a suspect’s innocence.

Yesterday, the first few of coming legal challenges surfaced. A police union called for a federal probe. A judicial body announced it may investigate whether an SBI agent perjured himself last year. Cooper has tasked new SBI director Greg McLeod, his longtime lobbyist, with a number of changes: an independent ombudsman to handle complaints; a review of the DNA section; better supervision of agents in the field; more advanced certification for the lab, and a culture of openness and truth seeking. Piecemeal change won’t turn the SBI around, said Jim Cooney, a Charlotte lawyer who has represented police departments as well as death row inmates. The SBI’s very credibility is at stake, but the agency’s failure to deal with problems for years shows that the agency is not capable of reforming itself, Cooney said.

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