Del. Drug Lab Scandal Could Get Cases Tossed - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Drug Lab Scandal Could Get Cases Tossed

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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Delaware's controlled substances lab was in serious disarray, with absent leadership, in the months leading up to its closing by state police earlier this year amid an evidence-tampering and theft scandal, the lab's new director testified Tuesday.
   
Robyn Quinn said her predecessor was "rarely at work," and left behind drugs and evidence among piles of documents and personal belongings in her office when she retired last year.
   
"To be honest, it was like a 'Hoarding' episode in there," Quinn said of the office mess left by former lab manager Caroline Honse.
   
Quinn also described poor communications, a lack of written policies and procedures, and lax security measures and evidence handling procedures - including unauthorized staffers accepting and logging in drug evidence from police, non-authorized employees having access to the lab office area, and chemists storing evidence in their personal lab lockers.
   
"What I've been through for the last six months, nothing would surprise me," Quinn said when asked about potential security problems with lockboxes used by couriers delivering drug evidence to the lab.
   
Quinn's testimony came on the first day of a hearing involving two drug crime defendants that could determine the fate of hundreds of drug prosecutions in Delaware.
   
The evidence-tampering scandal involving the lab, which was part of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, already has led to the arrests of two state employees and dismissals or plea bargains in scores of drug cases.
   
Public defenders now are arguing that prosecutors cannot meet their burden of establishing the integrity of evidence sent to the lab, and that hundreds of pending drug prosecutions should therefore be dismissed.
   
"Nothing that passed through the OCME is reliable," public defender Beth Savitz told Judge William Carpenter Jr. on Tuesday.
   
Prosecutors contend that only cases in which evidence tampering or theft has been found should be considered tainted.
   
Following this week's hearing, Carpenter's ruling is expected to serve as a template for hundreds of pending drug cases involving evidence sent to the lab before it was shut down by state police in February.
   
According to Quinn, officials knew of problems in the lab long before the police intervention.
   
Quinn said the transition of leadership to her was made more difficult because Honse was rarely at work, but she suggested that Hal Brown, deputy director of the medical examiner's office, was well aware of the problems, if not their exact extent.
   
"I think he sort of knew what I was walking into," Quinn said.
   
Quinn also said she expressed doubts to police about the competency of a colleague who was picked by Brown and former chief medical examiner Dr. Richard Callery to oversee an internal audit in January.
   
Quinn said the staffer, management analyst Jack Lucey, improperly broke seals on evidence envelopes and did not handle DNA evidence according to proper standards.
   
"It was a lack of attention to detail," she said, adding that Lucey also appeared to have trouble taking directions from a female.
   
The internal audit was never completed because of the police investigation.
   
Callery, who was among the highest-paid employees in state government, was fired in July and is the target of a criminal investigation involving possible misuse of state resources. His firing came shortly after lawmakers abolished the office of chief medical examiner in June and replaced it with a new division of forensic science.
   
Honse could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

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