Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Accused Coke Thief Lab Tech Has Colleagues in High Places

Posted By on Thu, Mar 11, 2010 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge CocaineRickJames.jpg
The allegations tumbling out of the city's much-maligned crime lab seem to be ripped straight from Law & Order. Veteran lab tech Deborah Madden is accused of purloining the cocaine she was supposed to be testing, resulting in a swath of accused felony drug-pushers literally earning a Get Out Of Jail Free Card, and plenty of looming legal, governmental, and political minefields down the road.

Eh, happens all the time.

"You'd be surprised. It's not that uncommon," says Ralph Keaton, the executive director of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board. Keaton's organization is the largest accreditation body of crime labs in the nation. Every year, he says, one or two lab techs are caught skimming. What's more, "eight to 10" narcotics investigators are nicked doing the same on a yearly basis. In fact, five years ago, David Petersen -- the president of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors -- was himself jailed in Minnesota for stealing 25 grams of cocaine.

(Note: While the names are similar, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board is not affiliated with the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors).

While it may be little solace to Public Defender Jeff Adachi -- who worries hundreds or more cases may have decided via tampered evidence -- Keaton said most cases of lab tech drug skimming he's heard of did not present situations where evidence was altered in a way that would send innocent people to jail.

Keaton -- who had such a situation occur in a lab he oversaw in North Carolina -- said most drug-addicted lab techs will accurately test the drugs in question, file the necessary analysis report, and then filch the drugs after the work is done. "I think you will find that to be the case most every time," he said.

Finally, while Keaton has seen this before and will see it again, longtime San Francisco legal and political figures we spoke with couldn't recall a similar case locally. Quentin Kopp started practicing law in San Francisco nearly 55 years ago, and has since served as supervisor, state senator, and judge. He couldn't think of another instance -- in the crime lab or elsewhere -- that could potentially invalidate so many legal cases.

"There might be individual cases where the chain of possession is broken," he says. "You have to go through all of that: The cop makes a bust, seizes whatever it is. Defense lawyers know how to attack that pretty good. You'll get a break in the chain of possession in individual instances. But never a defect in total lab procedures."

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • Phish at the Bill Graham Auditorium
    Phish is in the midst of a block of sold out shows at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (October 27-29). The Monday night concert featured a rare first set opener of “Walfredo” with the band members switching instruments for the song. The evening’s highlights included John Fishman and his iconic vacuum cleaner solo and favorites such as Chalk Dust Torture, Slave to the Traffic Light, Axilla, Rift, 2001 Space Odyssey, and Maze. The show also featured Phish’s debut of a, seemingly impromptu, version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to with roaring approval of the, singing along, crowd. With Game 6 being tonight, partying Phish fans will join Giants fans in Civic Center Plaza where there will be a World Series viewing party on a large screen set up by the City. Photography by Jamie Soja.
  • The 4th Annual Masquerotica 2014 - NSFW
    The theme this year was Carnaval Mystique for the 4th Annual Masquerotica at The Factory. Attendees were entertained by strip dance, trapeze, and live music. Photographs by Calibree Photography.