Independent Crime Lab Calls Austin P.D.’s Lab Techniques Into Question

An investigation by the American-Statesman has revealed that an independent forensic lab has filed a complaint against the Austin Police Department Crime Lab. The complaint claims that employees at the Austin P.D. lab either lost, contaminated, or incorrectly classified drug samples. In at least three cases, the complaint claims that these mistakes have caused significant issues.

The American-Statesman filed a request in accordance with the Texas Public Information Act and as a result received a copy of the complaint filed against the Austin P.D. crime lab. The complaint was filed by Integrated Forensic Laboratories in Euless, Texas. The manager of the Austin P.D. lab, Bill Gibbens, was asked to comment on the complaint, but he refused saying that the three incidents mentioned in the complaint were part of on-going court proceedings. He did say that he has filed his response to the complaint with the Texas Forensic Commission and with the national accrediting agency for forensic labs, the American Association of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Contained within the complaint is an email sent from Ronald Fazio, who is the director of Integrated Forensic, sent to an unknown person. The email expresses Fazio’s reservations about filing a complaint against another lab, but in three cases, the mistakes were grave enough to cause Fazio to have significant concerns about the lab’s performance.

The email described three cases in which the Austin P.D. lab made mistakes that should not have been made. In the most severe case, the Austin P.D. lab conducted an analysis of evidence in October 2010 and found that it was 15.24 grams of cocaine material. When Integrated retested the same material in August 2011, it found that it was only 8.65 grams. The analyst at Austin P.D. claimed that the sample was slightly moist, but Fazio noted that the excess moisture did not explain who the sample lost nearly 50% of its weight. This is important because the weight of the illegal substance is one of the determining factors of the crime with which a defendant can be charged. If the weight is wrong or miscalculated, the prosecution may lose its case. Gibbens response to this allegation was that the sample had degraded since it had been in storage.

Fazio also noted that the Austin P.D. lab had problems with measuring marijuana material and MDMA materials, which has also caused concern. The Texas Forensic Science Commission could recommend that the lab be put under investigation, which will bring significant scrutiny and will either make or break the credibility of the Austin P.D. lab.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.