The Austin Police Department’s DNA lab closed in March after the Texas Forensic Science Commission audit showed the lab was not meeting standards.
That report indicated that samples were not only mishandled, but the technology used in the lab was out of date
After much scrutiny into the operations of the APD DNA lab, the department has decided to keep the lab closed for the foreseeable future.
“I want to let everyone know today that we are ceasing all of our operations towards reopening all of our serology and DNA operations at the APD lab,” said Austin Police Department Interim Chief Brian Manley.
Earlier this month, APD stated that prior to closing the lab a freezer containing evidence had broken. Everything inside that freezer then had to be analyzed to determine if any of it had been compromised, but at that point APD was hoping to reopen their DNA lab in 2017 after restructuring it.
“As the chief of police for the Austin Police Department and representing my agency, I apologize to the community and to our partners in the criminal justice system that we’re in the position where we are today,” Manley said.
The APD DNA lab opened 12 years ago and has undergone 17 routine audits, none of them identifying concerns about the way the lab was operating until the Texas Forensic Science audit in March.
“I can relate to the frustrations of not only the taxpayers who are wondering at the end of the day what the fiscal impact of this will be, but also to my partners in the criminal justice system that again is making their jobs that much more difficult,” said Manley.
Manley said personnel who worked in or managed the lab have been let go since the recent allegations came to light. Only two scientists currently training with the Department of Public Safety will remain in their current position. Those two scientists will be trained and supervised by DPS.
“We've received additional positions in our budget this year for additional scientists and a supervisor, again to increase the capacity of our DNA lab. We will not make those hires. We will not hire any other individuals into our lab,” said Manley.
The ballistics, blood work, chemistry, patent prints and latent prints part of the lab will continue to operate, as the audit found no concerns with practices in those areas. Although, those practices will be reviewed in what APD has said is “an abundance of caution.”
Meanwhile, to help clear the almost 3000 untested DNA samples since the 1990s, APD will continue to outsource as many cases as possible to an accredited lab in Dallas until other opportunities arise.
“We've been asked to only send 20 cases to them a month and that is not going to assist us in clearing the backlog or keeping up with the current cases. So, we are actively engaging the science community again for other labs looking for a solution to handle the current cases that are coming in,” Manley said.
Trudy Strassburger with the Capital Area Private Defender Service, which will be reviewing several of APD's DNA cases, sent us this statement:
"The closing of the APD DNA Lab is a recognition of how serious the problems at the DNA Lab were. That is why it is so urgent that The Capital Area Private Defender Service begins the post-conviction review of all cases stemming from the DNA lab so that integrity to the justice system can be fully restored. We are confident that Travis County and The City of Austin will be taking steps to address this issue."
APD also decided to remove a forensic specialist they had hired out of Phoenix after concerns about his educational background. Meanwhile, the district attorney's office will outsource any DNA testing they need completed for critical cases.
APD is working with city leaders to hire two outside consultants to review operations at the lab and come up with plans moving forward. Ultimately, City Council will decide whether to reopen the lab in the future.