Delaware OCME scandal could impact other drug cases

 (DHSS photo)

(DHSS photo)

A Superior Court judge will continue hearing testimony regarding two drug cases that passed through the embattled Controlled Substance Lab in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Defense attorneys for the drug cases, which involve marijuana and heroin, have questioned the reliability of the lab, which was shut down earlier this year following the discovery that some drug evidence within the lab had been tampered with and stolen.

The two cases before Judge William Carpenter are not part of the 51 pieces of potentially compromised evidence that was discovered during an audit of the lab. However, the public defender’s office has said that the tampering within the lab could affect hundreds of additional drug cases because the integrity of lab was compromised.

On Tuesday, Carpenter heard from several witnesses. including lab employees and police officers from various agencies who assisted in an audit of the lab.

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During the testimony, employees detailed some of the lax policies and procedures within the lab, including how drug evidence was moved and stored within the lab.

“People had access to things they shouldn’t have,” said Robyn Quinn, manager of the lab since November 2013.

Quinn said that when she took over last fall, she tried to implement new procedures but had a hard time breaking through the chain of command.

She also explained that some employees weren’t properly trained to perform some of the tasks to which they were assigned and that a system used to track the chain of custody of drug evidence had errors.

Carpenter’s ruling on the two drug cases could set the precedent of how other drug prosecutions will be handled.

Changes to the lab

In May, two employees of the Chief Medical Examiner’s office were arrested.

James Woodson, a death investigator at the facility, is accused of removing cocaine from an evidence bag at the Controlled Substances Lab. He was also charged for violating the terms of use governing his access to the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System database in April. He was indicted on one count each of trafficking cocaine, theft of a controlled substance, official misconduct and tampering with evidence.

The second employee, 54-year-old Farnam Daneshgar, a chemist at the lab, was indicted on two counts of falsifying business records.

According to the AG’s office, Daneshgar failed to produce reports that documented discrepancies with drug evidence he reviewed in two specific cases. He was also charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia after police executed a search warrant on his home.

Former Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Callery was fired last month. He was suspended in February after allegations of misconduct in the office were first reported. Callery was accused of taking paid side jobs while ignoring problems within the office.

As a result, state officials have taken steps to overhaul the office. Legislation was passed earlier this year to abolish the office and create the Division of Forensic Science, which will be housed under the Dept. of Safety and Homeland Security.

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