San Francisco police, DNA lab slammed in released transcript

s.f. examiner file photoGeorge Gascón

Sealed court records discussing a memo critical of the Police Department’s DNA testing lab have been made public, offering harsh assessments of the technician who now runs the lab and of the department’s failure to reveal the memo during lab re-accreditation.

The SF Weekly published the transcript Monday, provoking anger from the office of former police chief and current District Attorney George Gascón.

“We intend to pursue contempt of court proceedings against the public defender for releasing the sealed document,” said Chief of Staff Cristine DeBerry.

An appeals court recently sided with defense attorneys in an upcoming murder trial, granting them access to the sealed memo and transcripts.

Deputy Public Defender Bicka Barlow said the transcripts were “accidentally turned over” to the newspaper. “We didn’t leak anything,” she said. “Completely unintentional.”

The transcripts show Superior Court Judge Charles Haines agreeing with forensic consultant Rockne Harmon that lab tech Cherisse Boland’s work in a 2007 double-homicide case was not competent and possibly deceptive.

Harmon’s allegations could call into question other testing done by Boland and the lab.

“It’s the closest thing you can get to out-and-out lying, prevaricating,” Haines said of Boland’s failure to disclose the discovery of someone’s DNA profile on the murder suspects’ bicycle handgrips.

“She’s either being disingenuous or incompetent,” Haines said.

Harmon, a former prosecutor specializing in DNA cases, previously served as a District Attorney’s Office consultant. Following the SFPD’s 2010 drug lab scandal, Harmon criticized Boland’s work on the 2007 double-murder case. A jury had just acquitted the suspects.

After the hearing, Haines released Harmon’s memo to defense attorneys in the 1976 cold case, in which Boland also tested the evidence.

Harmon complained at the hearing that his memo, which the District Attorney’s Office forwarded to police, was never given to a national crime lab accreditation agency reviewing the lab. The DNA unit was later re-accredited.

“There was a deliberate attempt to subvert the inspection review process by the Police Department,” Harmon claimed.

“It’s always the cover-up that makes the things worse than the problem to begin with,” the judge replied. “It makes things look worse than perhaps what they are in reality.”

Yet DeBerry said lab accreditors were informed. She said a six-page complaint raised by a defense attorney on the 2007 case was sent to them, and they “determined that there was nothing untoward in the examination that
Cherisse Boland conducted.”

Boland also was the subject of a police internal affairs probe, DeBerry said.

“The issue has been properly vetted and resolved,” DeBerry said. “I think we’re getting great results in cases involving DNA.”

The Police Department did not respond to calls for comment.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsCrimeGeorge GasconLocal

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