The state crime toxicology lab is under fire, as we reported last month. And as more and more information about the problems become available, it’s obvious the lab had been struggling for many years. The Indianapolis Star reports this week that 2,000 emails dated from as early as 2003 reveal errors and also reveal a lab supervisor who was trying to speak up, trying to get help for the lab.
The emails are those to and from the former acting director of the lab, Peter Method. A chemist, Method joined the lab in 2001. Some of the emails alerted Method to problems at the lab and even copied Michael Vasko, the chair of the medical schools Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
Many of the emails came from a lab supervisor who could not be quieted. Natividad Dumaual was quite vocal about problems at the lab as early as 2005. She had to be reprimanded at one point for saying the lab had only “one stinking machine” to a prosecutor. The reprimand was because her boss didn’t want to give any defense attorneys reason to doubt the integrity of the work being done.
She continued to complain to Method and Vasko, alerting them to many false negatives and saying “I don’t think I trust anything that is in the computer.” There were supposed false readings on cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and even tests ran on a subject after he had killed another driver while operating his car under the influence of drugs.
Dumaual’s disdain and frustration showed in the emails when she wrote things like, “No matter how I tell our techs to be careful, if we are overwhelmed by samples/deadlines to meet…we are bound to make mistakes. I guess if this is acceptable to you and the department then I don’t have to worry.”
What is perhaps most interesting about the time period revealed within the emails is that the current audit is only looking at the years 2007 through 2009. In those cases already reviewed in the current audit, there has been an average of one flawed marijuana test result every 3.28 days and a false positive every 18 days.
Among the emails there were at least 26 bad test results reported to police, 12 of which were false positives, potentially working to convict possibly innocent people. On the other hand, there were 14 false negatives which could have prevented law enforcement from arresting offenders.
An in depth investigation into the lab’s practices is underway and we haven’t heard the end of it yet. Evidentiary integrity is crucial in a criminal case and the issues experienced at the Indiana Toxicology lab will prove just how bad practices can affect the meting out of justice.