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Biden: Investigation of State Medical Examiner’s drug lab reveals systemic failings, urgent need for reform

Date Posted: Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Categories:  Criminal Department of Justice DOJ Press Releases

 

Wilmington – Attorney General Beau Biden today issued a preliminary report outlining the findings of a joint Department of Justice/Delaware State Police investigation into the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Controlled Substances Unit (“CSU”).  The investigation, initiated earlier this year after evidence in a Kent County drug prosecution was found to be compromised, reveals systemic failures at the CSU that impact the integrity of drug evidence testing and the criminal prosecution of drug cases.

 

“The lack of oversight and inadequate security at the Medical Examiner’s drug lab is deeply disturbing,” Biden said.  “Our preliminary report spells out for the public the extent of those failings to-date and the need for state leaders to take the necessary steps to address them.  Delaware must have its own independent, state-of-the-art crime laboratory.  A new crime lab is the right thing for Delaware’s criminal justice system and the right thing for taxpayers.  The legislation being considered today in the State Senate marks the first step in addressing the problems uncovered by this investigation. We look forward to working with the Executive Branch and members of the General Assembly on a new facility.”

 

A Delaware State Police investigation into compromised drug evidence began on January 15 after drugs removed from a sealed evidence envelope presented at the trial of a Kent County man charged with drug dealing was found to be inconsistent with the drugs seized from the defendant at the time of his arrest.  The scope of the investigation expanded as additional cases with comprised drug evidence were identified, and on February 20, 2014 Biden’s office and DSP initiated a joint statewide investigation.  That same day they ordered the CSU to cease operations and investigators secured all drug evidence maintained at the facility.  Over the next four months, Biden’s office and DSP, together with the assistance of law enforcement agencies statewide, inspected thousands of pieces of drug evidence maintained at the CSU and every other state and local police agency, interviewed current and former employees of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and other witnesses identified in the investigation, and reviewed thousands of documents.  In total, nearly three dozen investigators, prosecutors, and other staff have been devoted to the investigation over that time.

 

The preliminary report released this morning concludes that systemic operational failings at the CSU resulted in an environment in which drug evidence could be lost, stolen or altered, thereby negatively impacting the integrity of many prosecutions.  They include:

  • Lack of management;
  • Lack of oversight;
  • Lack of security; and
  • Lack of effective policies and procedures

 

The joint investigation has thus far revealed 51 pieces of potentially compromised evidence at the CSU, stemming from 46 cases between 2010 and 2013.  These cases include lost or missing oxycontin, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine.

 

As a result of the ongoing investigation, three employees of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner have been suspended, two of whom have been indicted in the Superior Court:

  • Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Callery is the subject of an ongoing investigation related to his position as Chief Medical Examiner.
  • Forensic Investigator James Woodson was indicted on May 27, 2014 on one count each of Trafficking Cocaine, Theft of a Controlled Substance (Cocaine), Official Misconduct, and Tampering with Evidence for allegedly removing cocaine from an evidence bag at the Controlled Substances Lab.  In addition, Woodson was charged with a violation of DELJIS for violating the terms of use governing his access to the database in April, 2014.
  • Laboratory Manager Farnam Daneshgar was indicted on May 27, 2014 on two counts of Falsifying Business Records for allegedly failing to produce reports documenting discrepancies in drug evidence he reviewed in two specific cases.  He was also charged with one count each of Possession of Marijuana and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia related to evidence seized during a search warrant at his home.

 

The operational failings at the CSU have had a profound impact on Delaware’s criminal justice system.  More than 200 drug charges have been dismissed, drug charges in more than 60 cases have been reduced, and hundreds of offenders are seeking to overturn their convictions.  An outside laboratory has been retained to test drugs seized by Delaware law enforcement agencies at a cost to-date of well over $100,000.

 

Biden thanked the staff from his office and from the Delaware State Police for their excellent work on the investigation and recognized other law enforcement agencies who have worked diligently to support the ongoing investigation.

 

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