Blood Simple: Plebotomist goes for the neck

Phlebotomist Ian Sedigh may not be as familiar to readers as crime-lab rogue Deborah Madden, but he's notorious among some defense attorneys and prosecutors. Sedigh works for Arcadia Health Care, the company contracted by the San Francisco Police Department to take blood samples from DUI suspects. Deputy public defender Emily Dahm calls him a cagey "whack job" on the witness stand. At the end of one recent trial, a juror showed Dahm a note he'd written during Sedigh's testimony: "Not only will I not let him draw my blood, I wouldn't let him draw the curtains in my living room." Prosecutors, meanwhile, say they can't even count on Sedigh to show up in court, and recently had to cut a plea deal with a DUI suspect in large part because of his role in the case.

Last month, deputy public defender Paul Myslin sent a letter of complaint about Sedigh to Arcadia and the California Department of Public Health. Myslin referenced a Nov. 10 police report that said Sedigh drew two vials of blood from a drunk-driving suspect's neck when he couldn't get enough blood from her hand. Sedigh's supervisor, Ariel Asilo, told SF Weekly that Sedigh denies the report, saying a General Hospital nurse did the neck draw. Yet Sedigh's own checklist mentions neither scenario, stating he took blood from the suspect's left arm.

Joseph Musallam, a state-accredited phlebotomy trainer at UCSF, says drawing from the neck could be very dangerous. "The neck? Holy Toledo! That guy must just be crazy, or a supercourageous guy," he said. "You might hit the major artery and bleed to death."

Even though the on-scene Breathalyzer results showed the suspect to be legally drunk, the DA allowed her to plead no contest to a reckless driving misdemeanor instead of a DUI charge earlier this month. "I believe the reason we were able to settle it was primarily because of the neck-draw issue" and Sedigh's failure to disclose it in his paperwork, Myslin says.

The medical examiner's forensic alcohol supervisor, Nikolas Lemos, has also had problems with Sedigh. According to lab records, Lemos routinely found Sedigh's casework to be sloppy, including time discrepancies, incomplete paperwork, and the use of test tubes from outside the approved DUI kit. Greg Barge, the district attorney's misdemeanor supervisor, says several of Arcadia's phlebotomists, including Sedigh, have failed to show up at hearings about whether to admit the blood alcohol content in trial, and so judges have often excluded the evidence. Prosecutors then have to let suspects plead to lesser charges although their blood alcohol levels showed they were drunk, he says. District attorney spokesman Brian Buckelew adds that "in some instances," they'll drop the case.

Barge says he has met with the police department, urging them to drop Arcadia. "My logical reaction is 'Screw them, they're out of a contract.' ... The department says it's hard to find another vendor who isn't even worse."

 
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