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Judge reviews lab-probe files

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A San Francisco Superior Court judge is reviewing hundreds of pages of documents related to the investigation of former Police Department crime lab technician Deborah Madden as dozens of drug cases continue to be thrown out.

Madden, 60, is suspected of taking trace amounts of cocaine from evidence samples at the crime lab. San Francisco police have yet to arrest or charge her, however, and department Chief George Gascón said it could be several weeks until the investigation is complete.

Police released the documents after a request from defense attorney James Senal, who is representing a man charged with selling cocaine in three incidents. Senal’s client Mario Bell has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Senal said the documents could show when prosecutors learned of the police investigation and if they purposely kept information from the defense. Madden testified against Bell in that trial.

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo granted the request to see the file, which is about 1,100 pages, but in an unusual move agreed to review it before handing the papers over to the defense.

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“We want to know what she had access to and what she might have done,” Senal said.

Meanwhile, about 250 drug cases have been dismissed or discharged since Gascón shut down the substance-testing part of the crime lab for a complete audit, according to Assistant District Attorney Brian Buckelew.

In an effort to allow prosecutors to charge cases, police have been trained to do preliminary drug testing themselves. But despite the training, officers had only booked five cases with enough evidence to prosecute.

Police spokesman Officer Boaz Mariles said that with any new training, it takes time for it to take effect.

“The more people we train, the more exposure they’ll get,” Mariles said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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