Harmon is an unlikely whistleblower. A career prosecutor known for his hard-nosed effectiveness, he is past chairman of the California District Attorneys Association Forensic Evidence Committee. He has been an outspoken advocate of familial DNA testing, a controversial procedure that widens investigators' nets to seek DNA matches through suspects' relatives. Defense lawyers and civil libertarians have criticized the process as invasive and overly aggressive.

Harmon's opinion of Boland's work is not yet fully known, since the DA's office has declined to make public, or even acknowledge possessing, his formal memo on DNA lab operations. The memo's existence was revealed by Harmon in an interview for a December SF Weekly cover story ["Missing Links," 12/15/10] on problems at the crime lab's DNA unit. One day after the story was published, the DA's office, which had previously denied possessing his report, released eight pages of documentation.

The document was confusing. At first glance, it appeared to be an e-mail sent by Boland to Blake about her work on the Brown case. On closer review, it was evident that Harmon had written comments on Boland's explanation of her methods in the margins. His criticisms were underlined, a kind of annotation of her self-justifications. This unusual format could theoretically be one reason officials from the DA's office mistakenly thought the document was a private e-mail by Harmon.

“The full story — the full, true story — is still not out there,” veteran prosecutor Rockne Harmon says.
AFP/Getty Images
“The full story — the full, true story — is still not out there,” veteran prosecutor Rockne Harmon says.
According to a whistleblower, former SFPD Interim Chief Jeff Godown did not share an internal report critical of the crime lab with DOJ auditors.
© Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis
According to a whistleblower, former SFPD Interim Chief Jeff Godown did not share an internal report critical of the crime lab with DOJ auditors.

In more recent interviews, Harmon has clarified the origins of the annotated e-mails. He says they were only an appendix to his more formal memorandum on the DNA lab. He declined to discuss the exact contents of the complete memo, but said one section of it was devoted to problems with DNA analysis as revealed in Boland's work on the Brown/Wilson case.

Even the observations that emerge in the incomplete documentation released by the DA's office are highly critical. Harmon notes that Boland does not deal with the question of why she omitted the full presence of the unknown DNA profile from her forensics report. "Because of this misleading writing of the report ... no one knew or should reasonably have been expected to know that this Major profile was there," Harmon writes. He also picks apart Boland's argument that the profile could not have been uploaded because of standards designed to protect innocent people from false matches. By Boland's erroneous standards for profile searching, Harmon points out, many previous successful SFPD investigations based on DNA evidence could not have been conducted.

In a letter released with the documents, Paul Henderson, former chief of administration at the DA's office, wrote, "Mr. Harmon's statements were not made on behalf of the District Attorney's Office, and were sent directly to an outside party." This explanation was amplified by Woo in a letter she subsequently sent, along with the same documents, to defense lawyers who had inquired about it.

"There is an e-mail correspondence between Edward Blake, Cherisse Boland and Rockne Harman [sic] that we believe to be the 'document/report/memo/internal investigation' reflected in news articles regarding the subject of Boland's testimony," Woo wrote. "We do not believe that this material constitutes either Brady material or discoverable material... Nevertheless, we are providing this correspondence to you in the spirit of transparency." (Under the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors have a legal duty to turn over evidence that could help defendants' cases.)

Of course, there was nothing "transparent" about Woo's disclosure. Harmon, when he learned of it, says he tried to contact her so she could correct her public misrepresentation of his work. He never heard back from her, though the two apparently traded unanswered phone calls and short e-mails. In a February 2011 e-mail to Woo, provided by the DA's office in response to a public records request, Harmon implored her to take the time to understand his memo's significance. "You never had a substantive discussion with me about what I wrote. You said you were too busy," he wrote. "I was always available to do so."

Today, Harmon says, "She has never — no one has ever — taken me up on my offer to explain anything."

Harmon says he is all the more puzzled by Woo's inaccurate statements because another top staffer in the DA's office, Braden Woods, chief of the criminal division, is fully aware of the circumstances under which the memo was produced and should have communicated them to his colleagues. Woods, who worked with Harmon on improving prosecutions of cold-hit cases, helped write part of the formal memo, according to Harmon. He also argued against disclosing the report to visiting auditors because of the negative information about crime-lab practices it contained, Harmon asserts.

"Braden Woods knows all of this, absolutely, because he was worried about the impact of this," Harmon says. "Braden Woods didn't want this to happen. He told me that he didn't want this to be presented to inspectors." He adds, "It really begs the question, because you have a guy who's one of the top guys, Braden, who knows all this, and the DA's office has a responsibility to be candid."

Woods declined to comment. "I'm going to refer everything" to Cristine Soto DeBerry, Gascón's chief of staff and head spokesperson, he said. DeBerry did not respond to repeated requests for comment and to interview Woods.

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11 comments
Alferdonito4
Alferdonito4

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Barbra Barr

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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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