Deborah Madden, the retired San Francisco crime lab employee suspected of swiping drug evidence in a case that has brought The City’s criminal justice system to a standstill, admitted to police that she took home cocaine several times for personal use after it spilled on the lab counter because she “considered it waste” and “didn’t really think about it.”
Madden said she started doing the drug last summer because she thought she could “control [her] drinking by using some cocaine.”
However, she denied ever taking large amounts of cocaine from evidence envelopes and had no idea why several grams of the drug would be missing in some cases.
Madden made the admissions in an interview with two police inspectors Feb. 26, 11 days before the crime lab was shut down by police Chief George Gascón due to the scandal. The transcript of the interview was among thousands of pages of documents released by prosecutors at the insistence of a San Francisco Superior Court judge Tuesday. Madden has yet to be charged with any crime.
Inspector Darcy Keller began the interview by telling Madden the situation would likely cause people to be released from jail and she was “causing a huge nightmare for the City.”
The inspectors said a random sampling of evidence revealed that some envelopes were found to have been unsealed and resealed multiple times and drugs were missing. They also brought up an incident in which almost a gram of cocaine went missing from another employee’s locker after Madden had gone into it.
The interview highlighted several other problems with the lab, including the lack of personnel, lack of protocol and sloppiness.
Madden said there wasn’t always time to do quality-control tests, which she said they tried to do with about 10 percent of cases. She described a lab in which marijuana was often tossed into the regular trash and other drugs were just sent down the sink, instead of the proper biohazard bin.
She also said there were “tons of times” where weight discrepancies were found when evidence was weighed again — not just in her cases — and she blamed some of this on sloppiness.
Asked why the discrepancies were never reported, Madden said, “I don’t know, we just kinda, just laughed at it.”
Behind the curtain
Excerpts from an interview with Deborah Madden, who’s suspected of taking drug samples from the SFPD crime lab, conducted by two Police Department inspectors:
On why she did it
Madden: You know, I thought that I could control my drinking by using some cocaine.
On how she did it
Police: And then would you put it in your purse or your pocket or something to leave the lab at night?
Madden: A little in my pocket.
Police: And then, how, how often do you think that was occurring?
Madden: Very it ... not often, not often at all.
On when it happened
Madden: I didn’t want anybody to notice I was drinking. So if I have a little bit of that, that I got from the counter, I didn’t scoop it up it was just ... I did not do that. You know, if some of it you know fell on the counter after I put the stuff away rather than just throw it in the garbage. Which is what I normally did, yeah I take a little bit of that.
Madden: That I’ll admit to.
Police: All right. But what month do you think that happened, started happening?
Madden: Around the fall.
Police: Okay so, after the summer of 2009.
On getting away with it
Police: That’s okay, that’s okay. All right and were you afraid at first when you started putting it in your pockets?
Madden: Well I considered it waste so I, I, I didn’t really think about it.
On disposing of drugs
Police: And the vials of the quality control thing were thrown in the garbage?
Police: And that’s a common practice.
Madden: Well yeah the stuff was ... unused stuff was thrown out.
Police: Where does that waste go?
Madden: Um, well if it’s a sample you throw it down the sink or throw it ... you throw it anywhere. Throw it in the biohazard thing or ...
Judge asks why Madden’s criminal past withheld
A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Tuesday demanded to know why the District Attorney’s Office never disclosed that their expert witness in drug cases had a criminal past.
Judge Anne-Christine Massullo also ordered the release of hundreds of documents to defense attorneys related to the Police Department’s investigation into Deborah Madden, a former technician who’s accused of taking cocaine from evidence samples at the crime lab.
Those “first cut” documents include the transcript of Madden’s interview with police where she allegedly tells them she stole trace amounts of the drug from about six samples. The packet is expected to be turned over today, but several pages will be missing because police have claimed that many of the documents are privileged due to personnel issues.
In 2008, Madden was convicted in San Mateo County on a count of misdemeanor domestic violence for throwing a cordless phone at her domestic partner’s head. Despite the conviction and a subsequent internal police investigation, the Police Department never informed the District Attorney’s Office, which is required to disclose the information under California law.
On Tuesday, Massullo asked Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo if there was a policy in place to ensure that the criminal history of witnesses is disclosed. She was not prepared to answer the question.
“If there is not a procedure or policy, then I would like to know why,” Massullo said.
Prosecutors are required to provide that policy, if it exists, to Massullo on Thursday.
The documents could be released as soon as today.
- Brent Begin