Updated 12/07/2012 03:25 PM
Dispute between the District Attorney and police over crime lab
It has been months since the Bernie Fine case led to a very public split between the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office and Syracuse Police. Police worked on the case with the U.S. Attorney's Office. There was a belief that close relationships between SU athletic personnel and the DA's office might prove counterproductive. The dispute seemed to have eased in recent months. But YNN's Bill Carey says it has flared again, behind the scenes, now over the operation of the county's crime lab.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's a joint city-county operation. The place both police and prosecutors go to have key tests run on evidence in criminal cases. Police to help nab criminals. Prosecutors to prepare evidence for trial.
But Syracuse police complain the balance has shifted in past months, with the lab answering more to the District Attorney's office than to detectives investigating crimes.
Deputy Police Chief Shawn Broton finally took his complaint to the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, the key accrediting agency of crime labs nationwide. He complained that the lab was too closely aligned with the prosecutor's office, posing the potential problem, he said, of a "lack of objectivity in processing of evidence."
Broton also complained that requests made by police were being ignored or disregarded and that the DA's office always seemed to know more about lab procedures than police. Some needed testing was not being done. In one case, he claimed, lack of testing delayed an arrest that could have prevented a situation where a police officer was fired on. The deputy chief saying "the need for an outside, independent authority to investigate" could not be overstressed.
In its detailed response, the crime lab writes off most of the complaint to a misunderstanding of its operations and the increased need for efficiency as a host of agencies submit more and more evidence for review.
It was quite different in tone than the response submitted by District Attorney William Fitzpatrick who is quoted as telling the accrediting agency the Broton complaint is "full of deception and incompetence." He said Broton lacked a knowledge of forensics and policy saying one complaint was "astonishing in its breadth of ignorance." Another he labeled ridiculous. The DA adding, at one point, I "don't know whether to laugh or cry at this nonsense."
There are mediation efforts now at the leadership level of the city and county, to try to resolve the dispute
“We did meet with the County Executive and some of the people from her office this week and we are trying to resolve it,” said Mary Anne Doherty, Syracuse Corporation Counsel.
The police department is declining further comment. The District Attorney did not respond to a request for an interview on the crime lab dispute.
The executive director of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors says the complaint and responses have been reviewed. He says the determination was made that an "impartial investigator" should review the matter. It may be several weeks before any conclusions are reached.
County Executive Joanie Mahoney sent us this statement on the issue:
"We received the complaint from the City of Syracuse Police Department as well as the response from the District Attorney’s Office. My focus is on the integrity of the crime lab and we are meeting with all of the parties involved to seek a resolution. Our conversations are about the policies and procedures in place at the lab and it is important to note that the quality of work being done by the men and women employed in the lab has not been questioned at all. "