SFPD still making drug arrests despite lab closure 

Drug dealers will not get a “free pass” from police even though a police crime lab debacle has prohibited prosecutors from charging new criminals and trying new cases.

For the second day in a row Thursday, about 30 drug-related cases were tossed from San Francisco Superior Court because of the lab shutdown. Despite police arresting criminals without crime lab verification of the drugs, the district attorney’s hands are tied in charging the cases. Police Chief George Gascón shuttered the operation Tuesday because of allegations that crime lab employee Deborah Madden used and stole cocaine from evidence samples.

Another 35 cases could be dismissed or discharged today, including jury trials that require the testimony of a crime lab criminologist, according to Assistant District Attorney Brian Buckelew.

In an effort to keep new cases from being thrown out of court, the District Attorney’s Office stopped taking drug cases to judges for arraignment Thursday morning because they are likely to be thrown out even after police made arrests. Those cases, however, will be charged at a later date through a more costly and time-consuming effort by the District Attorney’s Office, Buckelew said.

Gascón said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that four other Bay Area crime labs could help with new drug testing as soon as today. California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced Thursday he would send in a team to provide an independent investigation, and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors would perform a second audit.

“In the meantime ... the people of San Francisco need have no concern that the Police Department will let up in any way our efforts to fight crime and take drugs off the street,” Gascón said.

Madden, the 29-year veteran criminologist accused of taking trace amounts of cocaine from six evidence samples, has yet to be charged in San Francisco. Gascón said it could be several weeks until the investigation is complete, despite a taped admission to police.

She will be arraigned in San Mateo County on April 5 after police found a gun and cocaine residue during a search of her home.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said a review is under way to see how many cases were overseen by Madden; he called for those cases to be dismissed.

Madden’s attorney Paul DeMeester called the investigation and the subsequent media attention “hyperbole and embellishment.”



Chief admits disclosure mistake, says drug cases should be upheld

Police Chief George Gascón said it was the department’s fault that attorneys were never informed of the criminal history of one of its few experts on drugs.

“We made a mistake,” Gascón said. “We had a system failure and we failed to disclose.”

The chief said police never revealed to the District Attorney’s Office or the Public Defender’s Office that criminologist Deborah Madden, 60, had a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction in 2008.

But Gascón said despite the mistake, it would be a “gross overstatement” to say that would be cause to overturn hundreds, or even thousands, of prior drug cases.

Prosecutors are required to divulge the criminal histories of expert witnesses such as Madden, a civilian. But both sides now are claiming police never made the information available even after an internal review and disciplinary hearing.

“I don’t believe it was intentional,” Gascón said. “I think it was a combination of factors, involving the failing to communicate between one section of the department and another.”

Public Defender Jeff Adachi raised concerns about the oversight Wednesday and has called for further explanation from police and the District Attorney’s Office.

“Doesn’t it look like the Police Department had this information and chose not to turn it over to the DA?” Adachi said.

As for Madden, her attorney Paul DeMeester said the domestic violence incident had no bearing on her ability to analyze drugs.

“It was a spat between two grown adults,” he said.

— Brent Begin

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Brent Begin

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