D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she wants concerns about the operations of the District’s Department of Forensic Sciences “fully investigated” after a national oversight board temporarily suspended the lab’s accreditation to perform forensic testing.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday she wants concerns about the operations of the District’s Department of Forensic Sciences “fully investigated” after a national oversight board temporarily suspended the lab’s accreditation to perform forensic testing.
At the same time, Bowser said her administration would be “fully defending” the lab’s practices to the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), which inspects the operations of forensic labs across the country.
The suspension of the lab’s accreditation has brought to a halt all of the lab’s forensic casework, including the processing of DNA, ballistics and fingerprint evidence.
The move came less than two weeks after a team of experts hired by federal prosecutors and the D.C. attorney general’s office filed a report in D.C. Superior Court that raised “very serious” concerns about lab management, including an accusation that examiners felt pressured to change results and that findings were misrepresented to ANAB. That report came amid a long-running dispute between the lab and federal prosecutors over the lab’s analysis of firearms evidence.
The D.C. Office of the Inspector General opened a criminal investigation into the allegations in December. The status of that investigation is unclear.
Bowser made her comments during a news conference Monday, weighing in on the controversy for the first time.
“We are committed in our city to an independent lab,” Bowser said. “That’s a lab that’s independent of the Metropolitan Police Department and independent from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And we’re proud of the lab that we have built at DFS. … Having said that, any questions about the processes at our lab, we want fully investigated and we will fully participate in that investigation. But we are also going to spend the next 30 days fully defending our practices at that lab with our accreditation body.”
The city said the suspension would last for 30 days.
In addition to the forensic sciences lab, DFS also houses the District’s Public Health Laboratory, which has been at the forefront of the District’s efforts responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The forensic accreditation does not cover the activities of the health lab.
The Department of Forensic Sciences is run by Jenifer Smith, a retired FBI special agent and DNA expert who was appointed by Bowser to lead the lab in July 2015.
With evidence processing halted, the city plans to rely on outside contractors for help covering the D.C. lab’s casework.
Speaking during the news conference Monday, Bowser did not address the cost to the city of hiring contractors. She said the city has used private labs before and has a long-standing contract for DNA processing resources. She also said the city would likely rely on federal agencies for help processing evidence.
Later Monday, the office of Chris Geldart, the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, told WTOP that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would take over the lab’s ballistics testing. In 2015, the same accrediting board found deficient practices in the lab’s DNA unit, which led to the lab temporarily halting all DNA casework for about nine months and the resignation of the lab’s former director. At that time, ATF also covered much of the lab’s DNA casework.
Council pledges oversight hearing
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called the loss of the lab’s accreditation “very concerning.”
He said Council Member Charles Allen, who chairs the council’s Public Safety committee,…