Auditors inspecting the San Francisco police crime lab to determine if it met accreditation standards were not told of potential problems at the facility, according to the head of the inspection group.
Ralph Keaton, executive director of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, told the San Francisco Chronicle that when inspectors from the accreditation board went to the lab in November, they were not made aware of concerns that some of the evidence at the lab may have been tampered with.
Keaton told the newspaper he was not aware of the problem when the lab received an extension in February to give it more time to make improvements.
The department's timing on informing the auditing group, he said, "was a little off."
Besides investigating now-former crime technician Deborah Madden, who allegedly stole cocaine evidence from the crime lab, Assistant Police Chief Jeff Godown said the department is also trying to determine if the board was intentionally misled.
"I am obviously concerned that the auditors weren't told about issues in the crime lab," Godown said, "and want to get to the truth."
Since allegations surfaced that Madden had been skimming cocaine evidence, the lab's drug analysis unit has been closed. Prosecutors have also dismissed about 550 drug cases and have been unable to files charges in an additional 450 cases due to the lab's indefinite closure.
After police opened a criminal investigation Feb. 23, Madden, 60, acknowledged to investigators during a Feb. 26 interview that she used cocaine found at work to mask a drinking problem. She had taken a leave of absence in December after an audit discovered cocaine was missing from the lab, and she soon retired after 29 years.
Police informed the accrediting group March 1 about the criminal investigation.
By then, then crime lab's quality assurance manager had requested, and the lab received on Feb. 18, a six-month extension to make improvements.
Keaton said his agency is still considering how it will handle the lab and its accreditation.
"If they have an issue, we are expecting to get those details," he said.
Such details, he added, "would have been a factor" in the lab's accreditation.
Madden has not been charged in the San Francisco case, but the criminal investigation is expected to be completed by mid-May.
District Attorney Kamala Harris announced Friday that the state attorney general's office will handle any possible prosecution against Madden.
Madden pleaded not guilty to an unrelated felony cocaine possession charge in San Mateo County Superior Court earlier this month.