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Photo: Courtesy of the Houston Forensic Science Center

Sixty-five case report errors by a Houston Police Department officer, including in 26 homicide cases and five officer-involved shootings, were reported to the Texas Forensic Science Commission today by the Houston Forensic Science Center, the city’s civilian-run crime lab.

A recent audit of 88 cases handled by the officer, spurred by concerns from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office over the officer’s handling of two crime scenes, found a total of 65 case reports with incomplete documentation, 32 with administrative errors and eight instances of misplaced evidence, according to an HFSC press release and the audit report.

Following the audit, the HFSC amended all of the affected reports and notified the district attorney of possible cases affected. The officer was transferred out of the HFSC to a position within the police department, which is run separate from the lab. A supervisor who did not initially catch errors in the officer’s work was also reassigned duties.

“HFSC has taken measures to address the mistakes made in these cases and to prevent similar errors going forward,” HFSC CEO/President Peter Stout said in the release. “The crime scene unit is a focus of HFSC’s efforts to ensure high-quality science is conducted throughout the organization, and steps are being taken to retrain and increase the technical capabilities of the staff.”

The civilian-run forensic center was established in 2014 as a separation of scientific evidence analysis from the Houston Police Department, which previously conducted all crime scene investigation and evidence testing operations itself. Since this change, the HFSC and HPD have been at odds over whether the establishment of a separate forensic entity has improved or impeded the city’s crime scene work.

While proponents of the HFSC have praised reductions in evidence processing times and a greater objectivity in scientific evidence analysis, officers of the HPD have complained of long delays in the arrival of HFSC investigators to crime scenes, impeding a timely and efficient investigation.

An audit report prepared last summer by a city task force and presented to the forensic center’s board of directors in September 2016 noted issues with the packaging and storing of evidence, and made suggestions regarding the number of investigators sent to each crime scene and what the role of each investigator should be at a scene.

The HFSC has taken those suggestions, according to its statement.

“In response to the (2016) audit and the more recent incidents in the crime scene unit, HFSC has hired more than six qualified, experienced investigators in the past year, including supervisors,” the center states.

The statement further ensures that the HFSC has improved the process for securing crime scenes and that they will continue to work with the HPD to “ensure the integrity of all subsequent forensic analysis,” according to Stout.

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