August 16, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Houston Forensic Science Center has disclosed to the state’s forensic oversight
commission that it found DNA evidence related to a 1998 sexual assault case in the
office of a former staff member.
The evidence had been analyzed by an external, private laboratory and been received
by the employee in 2005 when it was still the Houston Police Department’s Crime
Laboratory. The package included bloodstain cards, a slide with biological material and
DNA extracts, a byproduct of the DNA analysis that should be preserved frozen for
future analysis.
Staff found the evidence while filing away paperwork and other work-related items left
in the former staff member’s office. That position had been eliminated. Staff also found
numerous case files in the office.
HFSC has informed the Harris County District Attorney’s Office of the incident. It has
also disclosed the incident to the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
The DNA evidence found at HFSC was obtained during the investigation of an alleged
sexual assault of a nursing home resident. Although improperly stored, the evidence
had been previously analyzed by another laboratory, according to the Harris County
District Attorney’s Office.
Warren Brown, an employee at the nursing home, pled guilty to the offense of sexually
assaulting the nursing home resident, and the court sentenced him to 17 years,
according to prosecutors. Brown was released from custody after serving his time, and
he is no longer on parole. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has notified
Brown’s attorney of the HFSC disclosure.
HFSC requires all evidence to be properly handled, packaged and returned to a
recognized location following analysis. It also requires DNA extracts to be preserved in
a manner that prevents “loss, contamination or deleterious change.”
Case files should only be in the possession of an analyst or other staff member when
analysis is underway, a case is being reviewed or while preparing for trial.
No other evidence items have been found in the former staff member’s office.
“It is difficult to know why this evidence would have been left in an employee’s office
as this violates procedures,” said Dr. Peter Stout, HFSC’s CEO and president. “HFSC
views this incident seriously, and has reviewed its processes and procedures to ensure
something similar could not occur today.”
In 2005, the crime laboratory still did not have a Laboratory Information Management
System (LIMS), which is a computer database that houses case-related data. The LIMS
came online in 2009, making it easier for staff to see when evidence is not in the right
location.
In addition, all case records are electronically scanned into LIMS, making their
whereabouts more visible to staff.
“HFSC has significantly improved quality systems and tightened procedures since 2014
when it took over management of HPD’s crime lab. We believe we now have the
systems in place to prevent a similar occurrence,” Dr. Stout said.
“We continue to look for and implement new, proactive engineering controls to
improve evidence and record handling, and will soon have tracking mechanism
installed in some disciplines which further helps prevent the loss of evidence and
documents,” he added.
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 designed to be responsive to a 2009 recommendation by the National
Academy of Sciences that called for crime laboratories to be independent of law
enforcement and prosecutorial branches of government.
HFSC operates in seven forensic disciplines.
CONTACT INFORMATION:
Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Director of Communications/PIO
media@houstonforensicscience.org
http://www.houstonforensicscience.org/
713-929-6768 (office)
713-703-4898 (cell)
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