• The SFPD has also played a role in withholding information about Harmon's report from visiting state inspectors and the press. In response to public-records requests, police have claimed that no communications between the DA's office and police officials on the subject of Harmon's memo exist. However, Harmon has shared with SF Weekly the contents of an April 12, 2010, e-mail from Giuntini to former SFPD Assistant Chief and Interim Chief Jeff Godown and Capt. David Lazar. (In July, Godown was hired as deputy chief of the Oakland Police Department.) In his e-mail, Giuntini urged them to share Harmon's memo with California DOJ auditors.

Taken together, these obfuscations constitute a trend that defense lawyers and other criminal-justice experts say is troubling. A formal critique of the crime lab's DNA testing techniques could be used as evidence to impeach the credibility of forensic analysts when they testify in high-stakes trials. More broadly, it could cast doubt on the reliability of one of police investigators' most powerful evidential tools. The fact that Boland was a primary target of Harmon's criticisms is also significant, since she was later promoted to supervisor of the DNA unit.

The memo could also call into question the validity of the DNA lab's accreditation by the state DOJ and ASCLD/LAB. Recognition from these bodies is important for buttressing SFPD forensic analysts' qualifications as expert witnesses, as well as securing federal funding for lab resources. During the 2010 fiscal year, San Francisco received $744,381 in such grants, according to National Institute of Justice records.

SFPD Capt. David Lazar was one of at least two senior officials urged by the DA’s top staff attorney to release a memo criticizing the crime lab’s DNA unit.
Courtesy of sf-police.org
SFPD Capt. David Lazar was one of at least two senior officials urged by the DA’s top staff attorney to release a memo criticizing the crime lab’s DNA unit.

It is still unclear what Harmon's full memo has to say about the crime lab's DNA unit. Citing concerns about violating his past contractual obligations to the DA's office, Harmon declined to discuss the larger document's contents with SF Weekly. He did say that other sections of the memo dealt with DNA analysis in "cold-hit" cases, in which newly discovered DNA samples or matches revive dormant investigations.

The fragment of the report that has so far been released, however, is highly critical. For this reason, according to Public Defender Jeff Adachi, it is important that the entire document be shared with defense lawyers working on cases involving DNA evidence.

"This kind of memo, written by an expert of Rockne Harmon's reputation, is explosive," Adachi says. "You're talking about a situation — and I've been around for a couple of decades — which is really unprecedented. You have a prosecutor who is an expert in DNA issues acting as a whistleblower for problems at the DNA unit of the crime lab. And not only was he ignored, but the DA's office denied the memo existed."

Officials at the SFPD and DA's office declined to comment for this story. "While it is clear from your repeated inquiries that you would like to be provided with more information, we do not have any additional records or information that can be provided without breaching the work product and confidentiality guidelines that allow us to meet our mandate as a law enforcement arm of the state and county," DA's spokesperson Erica Derryck said in an e-mail.

The consequences of Harmon's findings, and of their suppression by law enforcement officials, will not be known until he releases all the documents in his possession, including his full memo and e-mails about it that he or Giuntini sent to Godown, Lazar, and Woo. While Harmon has concerns about sharing those records with the press, he says he will readily comply with a subpoena or court order for his e-mails and larger memo on the crime lab from defense lawyers, judges, or other official fact finders.

"I will gladly hand [documentation] over to anyone in a position of authority who is interested in pursuing this," he says. "I'd be happy to testify in court or be deposed under oath."

It seems that he'll get his chance. Defense lawyers say they now plan to subpoena Harmon to learn what he knows. From early indications, what emerges in these legal proceedings could be an embarrassment — to both the DNA lab whose workings Harmon criticized and the law-enforcement officials who have failed to adequately disclose his findings.


Shortly after 9 a.m. on Sept. 2, 2007, Byron Smith — a Visitacion Valley resident and father of five who police believed was tied to gang activity in the Sunnydale projects — ran from three men riding bicycles at the southeastern edge of San Francisco, near the Daly City border. Finding an open garage on Velasco Avenue, Smith ducked inside. Two of the men pursuing him jumped off their bikes, followed him, and executed him with multiple gunshots, including a shot fired directly into the top of his head at point-blank range.

His killers fled the scene. But they left behind physical evidence that police would quickly seize on: their bicycles. Investigators swabbed the bikes' hand-grips for traces of DNA that could identify the murderers. A forensic analysis performed at the SFPD crime lab in Hunters Point revealed that genetic material found on the grips matched the DNA profiles of Joc Wilson and Emon Brown, two suspects arrested for the murder by police. (The third bicyclist was never arrested.)

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11 comments
Alferdonito4
Alferdonito4

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Ramona Fuller

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Emma Pope
Emma Pope

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Emma Pope
Emma Pope

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JanetteT
JanetteT

Not a surprise when SF city workers are involved: overpaid, lazy, and incompetent.There are about 27,000 SF city workers for 800,000 population. 40 years ago population was same and SF had 5,000 city workers. Morons hiring morons. In this dept. the employees just can't hide their incompetence.

Bev
Bev

Brilliant, article!!!! This is one of the best pieces of reporting I've seen in years, and it's a shock the major media outlets don't pick up on this. It's a great example of continued failures within the various departments of San Francisco. Often, these breakdowns occur because none other than our ongoing politicians who move from dept to dept or Board to dept. There are skeletons in everyone dept's closet. Being in the courts, and knowing all the players in this, I commend Mr. Harmon for standing up and calling it what it is: deception, unethical, you name it. In the article Mr. Harmon loudly proclaims, in case no one caught it, he'll turn over everything if Subpoenaed. Jeff Adachi, are you hearing his underlying "hint hint?" Unfortunately, this cannot be investigated by the Atty General's Office as Kamela is Attorney General; and I continue to hear she is non-responsive to Law Enforcement conference invites around the state regarding vital practices and policies. Expected, consider the track record here in SF. If I was the accrediting board from back east, I'd move to have this investigated by the FBI. There are some I suspect are going to have sleepless nights as this is just the tip of the ice berg.

Scientific Fire
Scientific Fire

The "accrediting board back east" could care less. They are part of the problem.

Clyde
Clyde

no surprise one more reason not to vote for Gascon as DA

SkV
SkV

Actually, this was under Kamela's watch.

Cheryl Meril
Cheryl Meril

It's a corrupt legal system, what do you expect? They're nothing more than a business enterprise out to protect their own interests.

 
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