Judge orders drug evidence retested at state lab

A San Francisco Superior Court judge Friday granted the release of evidence tested by the former criminalist at the center of the Police Department's drug lab scandal to be retested by a state laboratory.

The lab's drug unit has been closed since March 9, when police Chief George Gascon said Deborah Madden allegedly took small amounts of cocaine from evidence at the lab last year. Since then, prosecutors have dismissed or temporarily discharged hundreds of drug cases.

Madden, 60, has not been criminally charged in connection with the crime lab as the Police Department continues its investigation. Last week, the district attorney's office handed any potential prosecution over to the California Attorney General's Office.

Friday morning, Joyce Blair, a prosecutor from the attorney general's office assigned to the Madden investigation, asked Judge Jerome Benson to allow crack cocaine evidence tested by Madden and used to convict a Tenderloin drug dealer in December to be retested by the state Department of Justice crime lab.

Benson agreed, saying that based on the extensive media coverage surrounding the lab and the Madden investigation, he felt that the release and retesting of evidence in the case was “in the interest of justice.”

Benson noted that the evidence could potentially be used for either a criminal prosecution or grand jury investigation of Madden by the attorney general's office. He also noted the potential for appeals of convictions.

According to prosecutors in the district attorney's office, Madden tested the crack cocaine evidence in the case of 47-year-old Kevin Williams on Jan. 7, 2009, but was unavailable for a preliminary hearing in the case two weeks later.

Madden's supervisor, Lois Woodworth, then retested the evidence and found the amount to be 1.9 grams less than the amount recorded by Madden, prosecutors said.

Williams had been arrested Jan. 6 with 49 individually wrapped rocks of cocaine inside a glove in his waistband, according to prosecutors. The total weight was eventually determined to be 20.2 grams.

A possible explanation given at the time for the weight discrepancy was moisture evaporation, defense attorney Paul Dennison said Friday.

Williams, a parolee with an extensive criminal history, was sentenced in February of this year to 10 years in prison.

The case is scheduled to return to court June 4.

Madden, who worked for the lab for 29 years, told investigators she began taking small amounts of powdered cocaine that spilled during testing in late 2009, to try to deal with her drinking habit. She also alleged that problems with the weighing of drug evidence were routine throughout the lab.

The head of the district attorney's office drug prosecution unit in November reported that Madden was failing to show up to testify in court.

In December, Madden went on leave and entered treatment for alcoholism, her sister told her supervisors at the lab. Her sister also said she found cocaine at Madden's San Mateo home. Madden officially retired from the department March 1.

An outside audit by the attorney general's office has since found several ongoing problems related to understaffing and excessive caseloads, evidence handling and record keeping at the lab's drug unit.

Bay Area NewsDeborah Maddendrug labLocal

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