The state crime lab is under the microscope after tests revealed evidence was contaminated with meth. Some say this could put thousands of cases in legal jeopardy.
Officials with the state crime lab confirm that a handful of samples of evidence have been contaminated. But thousands more cases might have been compromised, too.
And this isn’t the first time there have been questions about the accuracy of results from the state crime lab.
It has happened again, an internal investigation uncovering a defect at the Washington State crime lab that could affect more than 3,800 criminal cases across the state, the lion’s share of them DUIs.
“It’s sloppy and it’s incompetent,” said John Tymczyszyn, a Bellevue defense attorney. “And this is a place that has to have a sterile environment.”
Instead, says Tymczyszyn, investigators found samples were contaminated with methamphetamine.
“DUIs, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, sexual assault and (the lab) also does tests on dead bodies to determine the cause of death,” said Tymczyszyn. “There are thousands of impacted cases and a history of problems at this laboratory.”
Just 14 months ago, KIRO 7 broke the story that the state crime lab was using blood vials in hundreds of DUI cases that had been recalled.
In this latest case, Washington State Patrol says after they discovered the meth contamination, the crime lab was moved and the old area given a deep cleaning.
“So we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we can say with absolute assurance, ‘The results are accurate,’” says WSP spokesman Chris Loftis.
He rejected Tymczyszyn’s criticism of the lab’s work.
“People who are sloppy usually try to hide their sloppiness,” insists Loftis. “We point it out. We do a root cause analysis. And we fix it.”
But Tymczyszyn says that is not good enough.
“Eight confirmed cases where the crime lab got bad results in criminal cases leading to possible convictions of (the) innocent,” he said.
Because of that, Tymczyszyn wants the state to do more.
“This is something that requires a statewide investigation and more scrutiny into how this crime lab is being run,” he said. “This is something we absolutely have to get right if this crime lab is going to continue to operate.”
KIRO checked with prosecutors in the largest counties whose crimes are tested by this lab.
A spokesman for Pierce County prosecutor Mary Robnett says so far they don’t believe any of their 170 affected cases have been compromised.
But they are on alert.