An outside audit into the activities of the San Francisco Police Department's crime lab began today, a police spokeswoman said.
The lab's drug testing has come under fire with recent revelations about a criminal investigation into a former supervisor and a civilian employee of the lab, Deborah Madden, who is accused of tampering with evidence.
Police Chief George Gascon, who last week ordered the lab's drug testing temporarily halted, said the 60-year-old San Mateo woman told investigators she removed small amounts of cocaine from evidence for her personal use beginning in October of last year. She also made allegations about unprofessional practices by others at the lab, but Gascon said he believed the activities were isolated to Madden.
Madden, who went on leave on Dec. 8 and officially retired March 1, has not yet been charged in connection with the investigation.
Lt. Lyn Tomioka said today that the California Department of Justice's bureau of forensic services and the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office's laboratory of forensic services began an audit of the lab today.
It's uncertain how long the audit will take, but Gascon has pledged not to resume drug testing until the audit is complete.
The stoppage has produced a significant backup of drug cases in San Francisco Superior Court. More than 100 have already been discharged, dismissed or postponed.
The Police Department has outsourced drug testing to labs in neighboring counties, but the results will not be available as quickly.
About 30 cases a day are being discharged or dismissed, and others set for trial are being postponed, according to district attorney's office spokesman Brian Buckelew, "solely because the crime lab's closed, and not because of any suggestion that these cases were tainted in any way," he said.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi has said that because Madden has appeared as a witness in many prior cases, and has handled or supervised testing for years, the evidence in all those cases may now be in question.
The Police Department is also continuing its investigation of Madden and activities at the lab.
"There's a thorough internal investigation ... so they'll be looking at everything," Tomioka said.
It was not immediately clear whether that would include possible delays in beginning the investigation, or reporting Madden's behavior to Gascon. Madden's sister is believed to have reported the alleged stealing of evidence to police in December.
"We did have discussions with the sister in December," Tomioka said.
According to Gascon, he did not become aware of the missing drugs until late February, and an investigation commenced then. Police delivered a search warrant to Madden's San Mateo home on March 3, and found a gun and what appeared to be cocaine, he said.
Madden was arrested by San Mateo County authorities because, with a prior misdemeanor conviction in 2008 for domestic violence, she was prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Adachi has said defense attorneys should have been notified by police and prosecutors of the criminal background of a witness but were not.
Tomioka said she couldn't discuss specifics of an ongoing investigation.