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Forensic Hide-n-Seek

Short Story

It has been our suspicion for years that the Houston Forensic Science Center (previously the Houston Police Department Crime Lab) has been cutting corners to quickly analyze the backlog of blood samples submitted as evidence in Driving While Intoxicated cases. We’ve seen evidence of the laboratory’s failure to adhere to accreditation requirements and standard operating procedures.

Recently our suspicions were validated when we learned Andrea Gooden, an analyst with the Houston Forensic Science Center, submitted a self-disclosure report to the Texas Forensic Science Commission initiating an investigation that ultimately led to a finding of negligence. The laboratory’s failure to follow proper procedures jeopardizes their accreditations with ASCLAD/LAB and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Even more troubling was the laboratory manager, William Arnold’s, policy to “keep things informal” in an attempt to hide the negligence from all defense attorneys.

Yes, the lab manager wanted to hide the negligence! And, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office continues to play hide-n-seek:

Assistant District Attorney and General Counsel Dick Bax notified all prosecutors back on February 10, 2015, of the error and the report yet opined that he didn’t believe defense attorneys needed to be notified but he wanted prosecutors to know about it just in case a defense lawyer asks about it.

DOWNLOAD: HFSC – Dick Bax’s Summary

That’s the gist of this particular game of hide-n-seek, but keep reading if you want all the details and the longer story.

Long Story

In of June 2014, lab analyst, Andrea Gooden, submitted a self-disclosure to the Texas Forensic Science Commission regarding a blood ethanol analysis final report issued by the lab in the wrong defendant’s name under the wrong Houston Police Department incident report number. Gooden discovered and reported the issue to her supervisors in April of 2014.  In her self-disclosure, Gooden alleged the laboratory failed to: (1) amend the erroneous report; (2) notify the District Attorney’s Office of the error; and (3) issue a corrective and preventative action report as required by laboratory policy and associated with accreditation standards.  In addition, Gooden alleged that the interim lab manager, William Arnold, removed her from casework in April because of the error without a coherent explanation for why she was being removed or a plan for her to return to casework.

This self-disclosure stems from a blood sample submitted to the laboratory by former Houston Police Department Officer Joel Quezada, who has since been terminated and is currently under federal indictment for his alleged involvement in a multimillion dollar bank heist.  Officer Quezada arrested two individuals for suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated on October 5, 2013. One was a breath test case and the other was blood. Officer Quezada submitted the blood evidence to the lab under the other person’s name and incident number. He submitted blood evidence for a breath test case.

As the lab was processing the blood evidence, the analyst, Dwan Wilson, noticed the problem.  Wilson made numerous attempts throughout October, November and December to get Quezada to correct the evidence submission form.  In the meantime, Gooden analyzed the blood specimen with the permission of the Toxicology Section Manager, Mike Manes. At the time, the laboratory’s practice was to analyze the evidence with discrepancies in evidence submission forms but to set the evidence aside and NOT release a final evidentiary report until the officer who submitted the evidence could correct the evidence submission form.

Gooden analyzed the blood evidence for alcohol on December 9, 2013 and set the case aside without signing the report until the name discrepancy could be resolved. A note was made reflecting the error with the wrong case name. On December 10, 2013, the Toxicology Section Manager Mike Manes conducted a technical review of the analysis. Shortly after, Mike Manes departed from the lab and William Arnold was appointed as the Interim Toxicology Manager.

On January 2, 2014, the laboratory received an email from the District Attorney’s Office requesting the lab results from the blood test and informed the laboratory that when they checked the computerized Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), they couldn’t locate the case at all. The email was forwarded to Lab Manager, William Arnold, who responded confirming he also was unable to find the case in the LIMS system or property room system. In the meantime, Andrea Gooden mistakenly signed off on the final blood report and the report was issued under the incorrect defendant’s name and case number. The blood result was reported as the BAC in the other person’s breath test case. Gooden was never copied on any of the correspondence between the assistant district attorney or the submitting officer. By signing the final report, the report was released for administrative and technical review. On the same day, William Arnold performed both the administrative and technical review on the analysis not realizing the name discrepancy noted in the case folder or making a connection between the ADA’s inquiries about missing blood evidence for another defendant and the information noted in the case folder.  After William Arnold completed the administrative and technical review, he put the final report into the LIMS computer system which is the laboratory’s stamp of approval that the blood result can now be used as evidence by the DA’s Office.

On January 15, 2014, Officer Quezada replied to an email from William Arnold explaining that the case was mixed up with another case due to an error on the officer’s part on the evidence submission form.  Gooden was not copied on this email either and again the email did not trigger William Arnold to investigate or follow up on the evidence mix-up.  The ADA was forced to dismiss the pending DWI case because they were unable to locate the blood evidence.

In April 2014, Andrea Gooden was working in one of the evidence coolers when she noticed blood evidence that had been set-aside with a note on it in her handwriting. Gooden checked the LIMS system to research the case number and realized the report had been released with the wrong defendant’s name. Gooden immediately notified William Arnold, Irma Rios (Lab Director) and Lori Wilson (Quality Assurance Director). William Arnold looked in the LIMS system and determined the report had not been accessed by anyone outside of the laboratory and then recalled the report.  The following day William Arnold removed Andrea Gooden from casework instructing her to write a memo about the case and everything that she did related to the case in addition to collecting all relevant correspondence located in the case folder. As a result, Gooden discovered the email correspondence between Dwan Wilson, Officer Quezada, William Arnold and the ADA that had not previously been documented in the case folder.

After completing the memo, Gooden was under the assumption that she would return to casework but was informed by William Arnold that she would remain suspended from laboratory casework until further notice. Gooden sent numerous emails to the lab management expressing her concerns about the labs need to amend the report and also inquired into when she would be returning to casework. It was not until August of 2014, that the laboratory issued the final correct report under the correct defendant’s name.

William Arnold removed Andrea Gooden from casework from April 16, 2014 through July 28, 2014 citing inconsistent reasons for the removal. The newly formed Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) caught wind when Gooden alerted them to the problems in the Houston lab. During their investigation, the Texas Forensic Science Commission was given inconsistent reasons for Gooden’s lengthy removal from casework though lab director Irma Rios assured the commission that the reason was independent from the error in the blood alcohol case that was the subject of the disclosure. The commission was informed that William Arnold was concerned with Gooden’s inability to answer basic questions about and trouble conveying her understanding of the concepts associated with the function and operation of Headspace Gas Chromatography using the Perkin Elmer machine at the HFSC crime lab. This supposedly came to light after a conversation she had with William Arnold in March 2014 in which Gooden sought Arnold’s feedback on a PowerPoint presentation about Headspace Gas Chromatography for use during testimony is court. William Arnold also issued a memo stating that he had some concerns, after evaluating courtroom testimony of Gooden in a trial on April 30, 2014. Finally, William Arnold reported that Andrea Gooden “erred in generating a report for evidence submitted under the incorrect case information.”

After a thorough investigation of the HFSC, the Texas Forensic Science Commission issued the following findings in its final report:

  • The commission found evidence of “professional negligence” on the part of William Arnold in failing to issue timely amended reports to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office once he was aware a final blood ethanol analysis report was issued under the incorrect defendant’s name and case information.
  • William Arnold (Interim Lab Manager) and Lori Wilson (Quality Assurance Manager) were negligent in failing to issue a timely Corrective and Preventative Action Report (CAPA) that accurately and completely described the root cause of the non-conformance. Andrea Gooden alerted lab management to the error in the blood alcohol report and it took the lab almost 4 months to amend the affected reports and issue CAPAs.
  • The original CAPA issued by the laboratory did not accurately or equitably describe the root cause of the non-conformance. Most importantly, the CAPA stated Gooden worked on the case independently, relevant case emails should be included in the case folder, the action steps discussion in the original CAPA omitted that Gooden ultimately discovered the problem and brought the mistake to the attention of lab management.
  • During interviews, the Human Resource Director and William Arnold described Arnold’s motivation for not documenting Gooden’s removal from casework. William Arnold wanted to “keep things informal to protect her career.”
  • The Inspector General after inspection of the HFSC concluded, “William Arnold attempted to shield Andrea Gooden from consequences of her error by removing her from casework and retraining rather than formal documentation. Negative personnel reports are discoverable by defense counsel and can do great damage to an analyst’s credibility.
  • The Commission described concerns regarding a potential “chilling effect,” in which fear of potential adverse consequences discourages information for being communicated, either to management internally or to stakeholders outside the laboratory. The inequitable root cause analysis issued by HFSC could have a “chilling effect” on the inclination of analysts to self-disclose in the future.
  • Failure to report the error may have deprived the defense of impeachment information to which it is entitled.

The full TFSC Report can be read and downloaded here.

Even though the Texas Forensic Science Commission report was issued in January of 2015, and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office was made aware of the errors, defense attorneys have yet to receive any Brady notice regarding the incident and findings. After many attempts to alert the DA’s Office about the issues with the Houston Forensic Science Center, the errors made by Andrea Gooden and lab management and finding of negligence in the lab, we have yet to receive a Brady notice. In fact, a very surprising email was just discovered from high-ranking ADA Dick Bax, dated February 10, 2015, to all prosecutors notifying them of the complaint and advising them of the issues outlined in the TFSC’s final report. The email notified all prosecutors that Mr. Bax was of the opinion that the finding did not constitute Brady. The reason for the email was just to make prosecutors aware of the report in the event defense attorneys asked about it.

In our investigation, we have not come across one single Harris County ADA who has actually even read the report. This means that prosecutors are unaware of the egregious mistakes made by the Houston Crime Lab, William Arnold, Andrea Gooden, Lori Wilson, Irma Rios and they are unaware of the findings of actual negligence on the part of the lab.

Houston, we have a problem!

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