Jury trials tossed as drug lab problems spread 

Dozens of jury trials will be dismissed by the end of the day as the lens widens on the SFPD drug lab scandal to include weight discrepancies from more than just one lab technician.

The district attorney’s office has already dropped, or is about to drop, about 45 jury trial cases Friday, according to Assistant District Attorney Brian Buckelew. These are cases that reach back as far as two years and prosecutors will have to make tough decisions about whether to re-file those cases.

Already, about 400 drug charges have been dropped or dismissed by the court and unknown number of drug arrests have not even been charged.

The latest deluge is in part because of the case against Mario Bell, who is accused of three counts of dealing cocaine. His attorney, James Senal, asked Judge Anne-Christine Massullo earlier this week to release 1,100 pages on the investigation into criminalist Deborah Madden.

Madden, 60, is accused of taking trace amounts of cocaine from evidence samples at the SFPD crime lab. She has not been charged with a crime in connection with that accusation.

Massullo ordered the investigation be made public but allowed the district attorney’s office a chance to review it first. Friday morning, after prosecutors reviewed the file, Bell’s case was dismissed.

The district attorney's office is also reviewing an additional 750 cases for possible dismissal.

The SFPD shut down the drug testing part of the lab and has been sending samples to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to weigh the samples again. Several samples have come back with significantly different weights.

And Madden isn’t the only lab technician to weigh samples that have reportedly changed dramatically.

“Protocols have been breached,” Buckelew said. “We were not in a position ethically to go forward with the Mario Bell case or any of the other narcotics jury trials scheduled for today.”

Police Chief George Gascon is waiting on audits from the state attorney general and a national accreditation group to formulate a plan of action. Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Thursday called for the drug lab to be shut down and replaced by an independent lab.

“This is an unfortunate development,” said police spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka. “However, we are still conducting the independent investigation, and we’ll continue to work with the district attorney and provide updates when new information is available.”

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Brent Begin

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