The San Francisco Police Department's crime lab is putting a temporary hold on controlled substance testing after one of its techs was arrested and accused stealing drugs from the lab.
San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon said Tuesday that the crime lab will undergo a "comprehensive audit," following an investigation into the possible mishandling of narcotic evidence by a crime lab technician.
A crime lab supervisor became suspicious of lab employee Deborah Madden, 60, late last year and alerted police that she might have taken narcotics from the lab. Other technicians in the lab also suspected someone had tampered with drug evidence.
Madden, who was employed by the police department, retired on Dec. 8. She was supposed to weigh seized cocaine and test it for purity at the drug lab but instead, she used it, police say. The Chronicle reports Madden has recently been treated for alcohol and drug issues and is linked to at least six cases of missing drugs at the SFPD's crime lab.
An internal audit of the lab and criminal investigation over the next couple months turned up enough evidence for police to issue a search warrant for Madden's home. They searched Madden's San Mateo house last Wednesday and found a small amount of cocaine and a gun. She was arrested later that day by San Mateo sheriff's deputies for possession of a firearm in violation of a restraining order in an unrelated case.
Gascon said that during interviews with Madden, she accused other lab technicians of unprofessional practices and called the drug-testing process "sloppy."
So far, police have not found any evidence that tech were mishandled evidence but they are taking precautions and going out of their way to make sure the lab is working within legal boundaries. It appears small amounts of cocaine were removed from evidence containers, Gascon said, but there was no fabrication of evidence.
"It puts the hard work of every other employee of the crime lab into question," Gascon said.
The department is working with the district attorney to make sure, "potentially affected criminal cases are reviewed and where necessary, that evidence is retested, to ensure that no compromising of evidence has taken place," Gascon said.
He also said the department will revisit existing policies and procedures at the crime lab to ensure collection, testing, storage and destruction are conducted consistent with the industry "best practices."
The halt at the lab means that at least 20 drug cases could be dismissed right away, District Attorney Kamala Harris said. Evidence will have to be retested at the Federal Drug Enforcement Association lab and other Bay Area labs.
Madden is free on bail and is due back in court on April 5 for the weapons case.
Bay City News contributed to this report.