Judge lambastes DA, SFPD for drug-lab scandal, disciplinary records 

A San Francisco Superior Court judge slammed the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department on Thursday for failing to head off two growing scandals involving the crime lab and police disciplinary records.

Even as blame was placed firmly on District Attorney Kamala Harris’ office for failing to follow basic constitutional procedures, Judge Anne-Christine Massullo refused to grant dismissals for dozens of drug offenders.

Massullo said there were “significant errors and misjudgments by both the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office with regard to the handling of the evidence specific to the Crime Lab.”

Massullo ordered the release of hundreds more documents related to Deborah Madden, the Police Department lab technician accused of taking cocaine from evidence samples.

Prosecutors also failed to provide information about Madden’s criminal past to defense attorneys, a violation of the U.S. Constitution, Massullo wrote.

“By at least Nov. 19, 2009, individuals at the highest levels of the District Attorney’s Office knew that Madden was not a dependable witness at trial and that there were serious concerns regarding the Crime Lab,” Massullo wrote.

Harris has since created a policy to deal with information that could discredit a witness and has brought on longtime political supporter and private defense attorney John Keker to help with the fallout. The records of dozens of sworn officers and police employees are expected to be questioned in the end.

The documents released also show that the Police Department under Chief Heather Fong had concerns about disclosing Madden’s criminal past in February 2009. Two stick-on notes reference “Brady” and “Brady implications,” referring to the case, Brady v. Maryland, which sets the standard for divulging material to the defense.

A spokeswoman for Harris, Erica Derryck, said the most important ruling of the day was that the lack of a policy does not immediately dismiss about 40 drug cases. Those cases remain in jeopardy, however, because of Madden’s alleged tampering.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said his office is reviewing cases of individuals whose convictions may be set aside because evidence of police officer misconduct was not disclosed by prosecutors.

“This ruling blows huge holes in the D.A.’s claim that she cannot run background checks due to the confidentiality of police officer records,” Adachi said. “Withholding this critical evidence from the defense violated the constitutional rights of hundreds or perhaps thousands of people charged with crimes.”

Derryck said Adachi had a case of “sour grapes.”

“For Mr. Adachi to play politics with public safety is ridiculous,” she said. “The simple fact of the matter is that he lost all his motions to dismiss cases.”


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