The crime-lab mess: Who knew?


It's no secret that the San Francisco crime lab is a godawful mess; in fact, we first pointed out problems in the lab back in 2001. Nobody took it seriously, and things continued to deteriorate.

Now the Examiner is pointing fingers at District Attorney Kamala Harris, saying her office had word that things weren't exactly hunkey-dorey at the testing facility long before the current mess emerged. And if, indeed, a senior deputy in the D.A.'s office knew that the crime lab was bungling cases, Harris should have been informed, and she should have gone to the police chief and demanded to know what was going on; after all, lots and lots of her cases are now going south because of screw-ups in the lab.

But let me add another element to this, one that the daily newspapers haven't put much focus on:

Where the hell was the chief of police, the assistant chief in charge of the crime lab, the crime lab director -- all the top SFPD brass -- whose job it was to monitor the lab and ensure its quality -- while a truly nasty, messy situation was developing? Now, much of this pre-dates Chief George Gascon, and the guy he brought in from L.A., Assistant Chief Jeff Godown, who's now trying to patch things up. But if the D.A.'s office knew there were problems, and a deputy D.A. was able to point to one lab employee who was allegedly calling in sick just to screw up lab operations, it's almost inconceivable that nobody at the Police Department had a clue what was going on.

Godown appeared April 19 at the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee, and Sup. Ross Mirkarimi grilled him about how the situation was allowed to get so bad. Godown's answer: "We're still trying to piece together who knew what at the crime lab. Did the commanding officer know? Did the command staff at the Hall of Justice know?"

Good questions, because either somebody knew -- and didn't report it -- or nobody knew anything, in which case you wonder why the SFPD is allowed to run a crime lab in the first place.

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