More drug cases dropped, trials postponed 

The shutdown of drug testing at the San Francisco Police Department's crime lab caused another 30 narcotics cases to be let go by San Francisco prosecutors Friday, while 35 more set to go to trial were put on hold.

Police are investigating 60-year-old Deborah Madden, a former crime lab supervisor who retired from the department March 1, for allegedly taking small amounts of cocaine from evidence beginning in October.

Since police Chief George Gascon ordered a temporary halt to drug testing Tuesday pending an audit of the crime lab, about 125 cases have been discharged, dismissed or postponed, according to the district attorney's office.

"All of them are a result of the crime lab being closed, and none of them are related to any alleged improprieties by Deborah Madden," district attorney's office spokesman Brian Buckelew said.

Police and prosecutors have traded accusations with the public defender's office in recent days about whether Madden's alleged conduct has tainted scores of current cases, as well as past convictions.

Nearly 20 people walked into one San Francisco Superior courtroom Friday morning expecting to go to trial on various drug charges, but were told by a judge to come back next Friday. Several similar in-custody cases were also postponed.

Police say they are continuing to make drug arrests, but prosecutors have had to immediately discharge the cases of the newly arrested because of the unavailability of testing within the 48 hours necessary for filing charges.

However, prosecutors say they will refile those new cases once the drug tests are completed.

Other cases have been dismissed at the preliminary hearing stage due to the unavailability of crime lab technicians as witnesses at the hearing, which determines probable cause for trial. A similar problem has been encountered for those cases scheduled to go to trial.

Gascon has said that four other crime labs -- the Alameda and San Mateo County sheriff's offices, the Oakland Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration -- have agreed to help with San Francisco's evidence testing while an audit of the lab is completed.

Prosecutors said Friday they hope to be able to receive tested drug evidence back in three to five days, and that they are prioritizing these cases.

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