Legal Aid Wants Names and Reports of Forensic Techs in OCME
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23, 2016

The Legal Aid Society wants the names and the reports of the forensic technicians in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner who perform the casework on evidence used against Legal Aid clients and whose blunders may have led to the convictions of innocent people.

The Legal Aid Society’s DNA Unit has now filed an Article 78 in New York County Supreme Court in hopes that a court will compel OCME to provide us with full reports of casework errors with the names of the technicians performing these test so that we can analyze the extent of harm to any past or current clients.

In a statement Tina Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, and the DNA Unit, said that District Attorneys and the New York City Police Department rely on the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s (OCME) DNA laboratory to perform the vast majority of DNA testing used in criminal cases throughout the city. In 2013, the OCME was investigated by the New York State Inspector General because of a former employee’s decade of mishandling cases. The Inspector General released a report focusing on cases being mishandled by two specific former employees. Through a freedom of information request made by The Legal Aid Society filed on June 19, 2015 with OCME, we learned that there were hundreds of additional laboratory errors.

In response to the FOIL request, the Medical Examiner’s Office provided The Legal Aid Society with over 800 pages documenting errors dating back to 2011. However, the names of the employees involved were redacted. These employees are OCME forensic technicians that perform the casework on evidence used against our clients and who are often witnesses for the government at hearings and trials. Legal Aid hopes that the court will compel OCME to provide full reports.




The New York Post
Medical Examiner covered up for lab worker gaffes: Suit
By Emily Saul
March 22, 2016

The city Medical Examiner is shielding the identities of DNA lab analysts whose blunders may have led to the convictions of innocent people, the Legal Aid Society Claims in new filings.

The Manhattan civil petition charges that the Chief Medical Examiner’s office and its records access officer redacted the names of “criminalists” — lab analysts who test DNA — “who committed errors, and the criminal cases to which those errors relate” when they responded to a freedom of information law request from Legal Aid lawyer Richard Torres.

Torres received reams of paperwork with blacked out identities, which the Medical Examiner claimed was to protect employee privacy.

But the only employee privacy worth protecting is personal history, not potentially dangerous mistakes made by bumbling employees, the Legal Aid Society argues.

“Major missteps committed by public employees in the process of identifying murder and rape suspects are not a private or personal matter,” reads the filing, which asks that the criminalists’ names and the corresponding cases — some of which date back to 2011 — be revealed.

“The only apparent privacy issue appears to be that the OCME employees would probably not want the public to know whether they were involved in laboratory errors,” the papers say.

The petition argues that “embarrassment or loss of prestige” criminalists may suffer if they are outed “is justified by the overriding public interest in making the process of identifying the most dangerous criminals as error-free as humanly possible.”

Tina Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Practice and its DNA Unit, told The Post she hopes the court will compel OCME to share the full reports.

“These employees are OCME forensic technicians that perform the casework on evidence used against our clients and who are often witnesses for the government at hearings and trials,” Luongo added.

The state Inspector General discovered a former medical examiner’s office employee had mishandled a decade’s worth of cases after a 2013 investigation.

OCME spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said her office “maintains that the redactions were appropriate and warranted under the Freedom of Information Law.”