Funds directed toward troubled crime lab 

The embattled crime lab will receive a financial boost after Mayor Gavin Newsom earmarked $6 million more to the Police Department facility in reaction to a scandal involving an employee suspected of taking drugs from evidence samples.

About one-third of the increase will go toward enhancements for equipment, things large and small, including a backup generator and an air conditioning system, Newsom said Tuesday when he unveiled his proposed budget. Another $2.6 million is slated to clear a backlog of DNA and ballistics testing at the lab.

The rest of the funding, which still needs approval from the Board of Supervisors, is aimed at staffing the lab, along with two employees for the Public Defender’s Office and six employees for the District Attorney’s Office. In total, $11.2 million will go to the crime lab.

Police have since been trained to test and weigh drugs themselves after arrests in order to make a 24-hour deadline for prosecutions. That evidence is then outsourced to labs in San Mateo and Alameda counties.

The cost of farming out drug testing could be as much as $100 per sample. A recent audit of the drug lab found that more than 14,000 drug cases were tested annually.

District Attorney Kamala Harris took criticism in the Deborah Madden scandal because the lab employee’s criminal past was never disclosed to defense attorneys. Later, it came out that other Police Department employees have criminal pasts that were never disclosed.

Harris announced Tuesday she was creating a new “trial integrity unit” to sift through officer misconduct records. 

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who has been asking for a list of expert witnesses whose testimony is now suspect, questioned the new unit when his office should be the one to do the work.

“It would be in the best interest of all parties to just provide the list,” Adachi said. “Then my staff can go through the information.”

Murderer challenges case after SFPD drug-lab mess

The conviction of a San Francisco man who killed three gang rivals when he was 18 has been put into doubt because of the scandal at the Police Department drug lab.

A federal judge will hear today whether the alleged tampering by former criminalist Deborah Madden has any bearing on a federal case in which she provided testimony.

Dennis Cyrus, 25, was convicted of 16 counts by a jury in U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney’s court last year, including cocaine conspiracy, racketeering conspiracy and three gang-related murders.

Chesney is scheduled to hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. today on a motion from Cyrus’ attorney regarding information that questions the conviction since it was based on drug-related evidence.

The case was tried in federal court because the murders were connected to the sale of cocaine and other drugs by the criminal street gang Page Street Mob. Madden, who’s suspected of stealing small amounts of cocaine from the drug lab but has yet to be charged, was one of the expert witnesses to testify at the trial. Cyrus’ attorneys said there was “sloppy work” at the facility.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge has already berated the District Attorney’s Office for not disclosing the information. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it had asked police for such information but never received any.

— Brent Begin

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Brent Begin

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