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Background of the Investigation

     The public crisis that eventually led to the hiring of an independent investigator to review the Crime Lab’s operations began on November 11, 2002, with the first in a series of investigative news reports that aired on KHOU–Channel 11, a local Houston television station.  These television news reports, which were reported to be the product of a three–month investigation performed by KHOU in consultation with outside forensics scientists, severely criticized the forensic analysis performed by the DNA/Serology Section of the Crime Lab in a number of specific cases.

    Within a month of the airing of the first of these news reports, Acting Chief of Police Timothy Oettmeier commissioned an outside review of the Crime Lab’s DNA/Serology Section.  Representatives from the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) Crime Lab Headquarters and the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an audit of the Crime Lab’s DNA/Serology section over the course of two days, December 12 and 13, 2002.  On December 18, 2002, based on the preliminary oral report of the auditors prior to the issuance of their final audit report, HPD suspended the performance of all DNA analysis by the Crime Lab.  The final report documenting the audit’s findings was issued on January 10, 2003.  DNA work by the Crime Lab has remained continuously suspended to this day, although HPD is hoping to re–open the DNA Section by the end of this calendar year.

    In early 2003, HPD, in close consultation with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, began a time–consuming process of identifying all cases in which some form of DNA analysis had been performed by the Crime Lab.  This process evolved into a long–term re-testing project coordinated among HPD, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and outside DNA laboratories, which has identified for re-testing a total of 407 criminal cases involving DNA analysis performed by the Crime Lab.

     On or about February 21, 2003, Donald Krueger, the head of the Crime Lab, retired after serving in that capacity for approximately eight years.  Following Mr. Krueger’s retirement, Robert Bobzean, a senior manager in the Crime Lab, took over leadership of the Lab on an interim basis.  In mid–July of that year, Frank Fitzpatrick of the Orange County (California) Sheriff-Coroner's Office was appointed Interim Director of the Crime Lab as part of a contract entered into by the City with the National Forensic Science Technology Center (“NFSTC”), a non–profit entity whose mission is “to provide quality systems support, training and education to the forensic science community in the United States.”  During the course of its consultation with the Crime Lab, the NFSTC produced written evaluations of various aspects of the Crime Lab.  In October 2003, questions arose related to the performance of the Toxicology Section, which led to the suspension that month of toxicological analysis by the Crime Lab.  Also in October 2003, Irma Rios was appointed to be the new permanent head of the Crime Lab.  Ms. Rios had been with the DPS crime laboratory system for over nineteen years and was a member of the outside audit team that reviewed the Crime Lab’s DNA/Serology Section in December 2002.

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     On or about September 1, 2004, Chief Hurtt announced that HPD would seek an independent review of the Crime Lab.  Chief Hurtt formed a Stakeholders Committee — composed of Houston-area public officials, civil rights advocates, academics, attorneys, and scientists — to oversee the selection and progress of the independent investigator.  In November 2004, the Stakeholders Committee met for the first time, and, on December 2, 2004, the City issued a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) to conduct an independent review of the Crime Lab and Property Room.  On February 2, 2005, the Stakeholders Committee announced its selection of our team of lawyers and forensic scientists to perform a comprehensive, independent investigation of HPD’s Crime Lab and Property Room.

     On March 30, 2005, the Houston City Council approved a contract authorizing us to conduct this investigation, and we began our work immediately thereafter.

 

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