A criminal defense lawyer suing Maine for information on how the state police crime lab operates claims public officials are withholding documents that would illuminate “systemic failures” at the forensic lab, reports Bangor Daily News. The claims are at the center of a Maine Freedom of Access Act request made last year by the office of Lyman-based lawyer Amy Fairfield based on the resignation of crime lab employee Todd Settlemire in 2012 after he allegedly lied to his superiors, causing the state to alert courts that evidence provided by the worker could require examinations of his credibility.
While the state did provide thousands of pages in response to the request, they withheld records allegedly containing confidential personnel information that could violate privacy rights. Fairfield appealed the decision, saying documents provided show instances in which the lab failed to produce credible evidence and mischaracterized problems. Settlemire resigned in 2012 during an internal investigation after his genetic material was found on evidence in a DNA processing room he was forbidden to enter, according to a filing from deputy chief Bill Harwood related to a sex-crime case that year. He initially said he did not go past the doorway, but Harwood disclosed that Settlemire went further into the room. The incident caused the state to alert courts in at least three criminal cases that evidence provided by Settlemire may have to be disclosed to defense attorneys, according to court documents. The allegations come as Maine’s criminal justice system is under scrutiny after a year of political turmoil surrounding national policing and local calls for reform as the state’s two-year budget is worked on by lawmakers. Widespread issues at the lab could have major implications for Maine’s criminal justice system. The lab handles DNA testing and screens for fluids left at crime scenes, plus firearms examinations and gunshot residue determinations.