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State Lab In Trouble Once Again

An internal affairs investigation has uncovered a drug testing discrepancy at the troubled State Police lab, Public Safety Secretary Joe Martin said today.

State Police Superintendent Howard Hill said he has put two lab workers on leave in connection with the incident.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI have been asked to review the case to determine whether criminal charges are in order.

Martin and Hill announced the situation today at the Capitol. Martin said he believed the discrepancy was an isolated incident.

“Neither ( Hill ) nor I intend to permit such mistakes or unprofessional work to take place in our drug laboratory now or in the future,” he said.

The State Police lab’s reputation has been tarnished over the years by two high-profile cases involving inaccurate test results.

Chemist Fred Zain, who headed the State Police serology lab from 1986 to 1989, was found to have fabricated tests results. Prosecutors across West Virginia relied on Zain’s work.

Drug lab chemist Todd Owen McDaniel pleaded guilty to mail fraud. He sent a falsified lab report on suspected marijuana back to the Hamlin State Police detachment in 1998.

Hill said that the circumstances surrounding the discrepancy recently uncovered at the lab still were under investigation.

“I’m upset as superintendent of State Police that this has happened again,” Hill said.

Hill said he had placed Capt. Rick Theis, head of the crime lab, and Sgt. Tim White on leave.

“The two individuals are the people who I feel are responsible so I put them on administrative leave until whatever action comes out of the investigation,” he said.

Hill acknowledged he appointed Theis to head the lab and put him in charge of avoiding this sort of problem.

“I think the lab will be all right,” Hill said. “It’s just a matter that I have to make sure that the people I have to give me the information—I trust those people to pass that information up to me—that I’ll have to re-look and evaluate where I am as far as my administration goes.”

Hill said the State Police would have an independent lab double-check all the tests performed by White during a 90-day period from April to July 2001.

Martin said the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors has been asked to send an independent examiner to spot check all other drug lab cases.

“One of the most important missions we have at the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and at the State Police is to make sure the public trusts the men and women who wear our State Police uniforms,” Martin said.

Hill said he had just become aware of the internal affairs investigation into the discrepancy days ago.

“Why go public? The last thing I want to do is to appear that I’ve got something that I want to cover up,” Hill said.

Hill said that despite the lab’s problems, it was not practical to remove it from the control of the State Police.

Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for Gov. Bob Wise, said she had not talked to the governor about the situation at the State Police lab.

Posted by A. Shapiro
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