June 10, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Following its investigation of an anonymous, 92-page complaint filed with the Texas
Forensic Science Commission against the Houston Forensic Science Center, the City of
Houston’s Office of Inspector General has determined that the complaint’s allegations are
either inappropriate for investigation, unfounded, or do not present evidence of fraud.
The OIG issued its report (included) on June 9, 2016. Although attorney-client privilege
protects the report from disclosure, HFSC has waived the privilege so that the report may
be made available to the public and to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the
agency that regulates all forensic laboratories in Texas.
The complaint, filed with the Commission on or about April 1, 2016, focuses on HFSC’s
Toxicology Section, which provides analyses of blood alcohol for use in criminal
proceedings such as charges of driving while intoxicated. Pursuant to the interlocal
agreement between HFSC and the City of Houston, Daniel D. Garner, HFSC’s chief
executive officer, promptly asked the inspector general to investigate the complaint’s
allegations.
Although the OIG observed that portions of the complaint concern matters that “do not
lend themselves to meaningful investigation” (for example, “whether something written
on two pages should have been placed in a separate form”), the OIG did discern six
allegations worthy of investigation.
Allegation No. 1 was that Toxicology erroneously used an operating procedure to
determine the frequency of calibration/performance checks of certain equipment, when
the correct frequency was stated in the Center’s Quality Manual. The OIG found that
Toxicology had followed the wrong standard but noted that the error “had no substantive
effect on … test results” and that HFSC had remedied the discrepancy. In light of these
circumstances, the inspector general made “no further recommendations.”
Allegation No. 2 was that, although an April 2015 internal audit by HFSC identified the
discrepancy described in Allegation No. 1, the Toxicology Section did not begin
performing the calibration/performance checks at the required interval until July 2015.
The OIG concluded that Allegation No. 2 was “unfounded.”
Allegation No. 3 again focused on the discrepancy described in Allegation No. 1,
asserting that HFSC should have reported the error to the Commission. As a result of her
office’s investigation, the inspector general recommended revisions in terminology used
in HFSC’s internal audits and in procedures for posting information at the Center’s
discovery website. The OIG, however, “[did] not sustain the allegation that [the
discrepancy] required disclosure” to the Commission.
Allegation No. 4 asserted that in the fall of 2014 an HFSC analyst “made a ‘questionable’
entry on an HFSC Reagent Preparation Worksheet ….” The OIG “found insufficient
evidence” to discredit the analyst’s version of events and declined to sustain “the
complaint’s implication of fraud.”
Allegation No. 5 accused an HFSC analyst of incorrectly documenting a pipette
performance verification check in January 2015. The OIG determined, however, that the
complainant had conflated two maintenance standards and that the analyst’s
documentation was correct. Accordingly, the OIG found Allegation No. 5 to be
“unfounded” and made no recommendations.
Finally, in Allegation No. 6 the complainant objected to an HFSC analyst’s failure to
upload a July 2014 “Analytical Balance Performance Check form” to the Center’s
discovery website with sufficient promptness. Noting the analyst’s candid
acknowledgement of the error, the inspector general sustained the allegation but “found
insufficient evidence to support the complaint’s implication of fraud.”
Peter Stout, the Center’s chief operating officer, observed that during the past year the
Toxicology Section has replaced equipment, updated methods, and revised record
keeping procedures, improvements that HFSC will continue during the remainder of 2016.
Stout said HFSC will offer the OIG’s report for consideration by the Commission and
thanked the inspector general and her staff for their careful investigation, observing that
their task “must have been made more difficult by the complainant’s refusal to identify
herself or himself.” Stout also thanked HFSC’s Quality Division for having detected and
remedied several irregularities described in the complaint.
HFSC is a local government corporation that provides forensic services to the City of
Houston and other local agencies. HFSC is overseen by a Board of Directors appointed
by the Mayor of Houston and confirmed by the Houston City Council. Its management
structure is responsive to a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences that called
for crime laboratories to be independent of law enforcement and prosecutorial branches
of government. HFSC currently operates in nine forensic disciplines.
CONTACT INFORMATION:
Ramit Plushnick‐Masti
Public Information Officer
media@houstonforensicscience.org
http://www.houstonforensicscience.org/
713‐929‐6760
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