Investigation Into Crime Lab Proficiency Test Completed
January 25, 2008 - After several months of investigation by the Houston Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt announced today the resignation of one employee of the HPD Crime Lab, the indefinite suspension of a second employee of the HPD Crime Lab, and temporary suspension of a third employee, also of the HPD Crime Lab.
Vanessa G. Nelson, an HPD employee since September 2005, tendered her letter of resignation on January 10, 2008. Her resignation is effective (January 24). Sujatha Yarlagadda was employed since January 2007 as a criminalist specialist in the HPD Crime Lab. She has been suspended indefinitely also effective (January 24). Another employee, also a criminalist specialist, received a temporary suspension.
The investigation determined Nelson and Yarlagadda failed to use sound judgement in the administration of the HPD Crime Lab proficiency exam.
In August of 2007, criminalists in the Crime Lab’s Biology Section were given a proficiency test. It is essential that proficiency tests be properly designed, appropriately administered, and fairly evaluated. Examiners’ proficiency is tested only if they complete the testing unaware of the results expected. An allegation was made that several employees openly discussed the test and further alleged that a manager advised employees as to what they should be looking for and explained how to identify specific body fluids. The allegations were reported to HPD management who in turn notified the Internal Affairs Division, formalizing an investigation. The American Society of Crime Laboratory Director/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB), the Harris County District Attorney’s office and the Texas Forensic Science Commission were notified about the matter. It is important to note that the proficiency test in question was retrieved and never submitted for review and a new proficiency test was ordered and successfully completed. According to ASCLD-LAB the actions taken were appropriate and the incident did not impact the accreditation HPD worked so hard to achieve.
“In keeping with our policy of transparency, and because of the time, energy and over 5 million dollars that we have spent bringing the crime lab up to standards and achieving accreditation, it is critical to maintain the highest integrity of the HPD Crime Lab,“ said Chief Hurtt.
For additional information, please contact the HPD Public Affairs Division at 713-308-3200.