Forensics: More disputes within another DNA crime lab | Its police managers vs lab scientists again

Nothing describes the police/forensic science interface better than this short article primarily about the reinstatement of a lab technician after taking responsibility for leaking a DNA proficiency test to 12 other colleagues. These same 12 still remain suspended. After that part, the writer uses internal “confidential information” about deeper disagreements going on about management proposed changes to the DC lab’s methods.

This parallels the Washington DC crime lab controversy in May 2015, where the DC mayor and district attorney went after their own crime lab director via a mayoral appointed crime lab certifying org manned by some of the director’s critics. The FBI had previously criticized DNA stats in use at the lab.

This seems to have started in the public forum in 2013, the year after its new director, Max Houck took over. DC spent $22M for a new facility.

I have written previously on this here and here and here.

Houck has published in Forensic Magazine, apparently in 2013, a preamble of his philosophical standing and the organizational structure at  this lab. Its all about why forensic science labs should be independent of police. Here…. The crime lab/law enforcement/ASCLD industry isn’t happy with this idea which is a primary pillar of forensic reform meant as a preventive for factors such as bias and undue influence in forensic analysis. In fact, the last AAFS meeting spent an entire 1/2 day on this subject in February 2015.

Now, after 2 1/2 years as director, (he resigned April 30), I believe Houck has learned there is a down-side of being outside the culture of law enforcement and prosecutorial managers  and control.

Here’s the paper trail:

1) 2013 Photos sent to DC authorities showing evidence room disarray. At that time, Houck disputed their authenticity and also stated that the police that department. More……

2) 2015 March 5. The prosecutor complains. More…. Its all about DNA statistics of RMP numbers (random match probability). This is a pdf presenting how numbers affect DNA matches. generalpopulationstats

Another person in the CJ system says there is no proof that cases have been affected, other than one, according to the opinion of the DA.

Houck is quoted in this article.

“Max M. Houck, director of the Department of Forensic Sciences, said that the lab follows the same protocols in place at many city and state labs across the country and that experts may disagree on how to interpret evidence. The lab has made recent improvements, he said, but he stands by the work done before those changes.”

3) 2015 March 6. The mayor “chooses” the certifying board.

4) 2015 April 27. DC crime lab certification suspended by certifying board. Methods “inadequate and incompetent.” More…

5) April 30, 2015.  Houck resigns.

6) 2015 May 4. Interim director gets hammered by the politcos. 2000 DNA cases described as “botched” More…. Since Houck took over the job in October 2014.

What is most concerning to me is that the media has not taken the time to drag this particular profiling dispute within DNA forensics out into the open. I also see that no one in the forensic community is volunteering a thing.

Quite possibly, the Amanda Knox case in Italy sheds the best light in the media about what confusion of opinion exists in low cell count DNA evidence.



About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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