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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Newspaper Backs Up Alleged 'Misquote' of Top CA Forensic Scientist

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 4:18 PM

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We reported a few weeks ago on the uproar caused in North Carolina by Jill Spriggs -- chief of the California Department of Justice's Forensic Services Bureau -- when she defended controversial crime-lab practices before a panel of North Carolina legislators. In a brief interview at the time, Spriggs told us that her remarks had been "taken out of context" in the Raleigh News & Observer.

It's not uncommon for reporters to hear complaints like this, particularly on complex or controversial stories. But N&O reporter Joe Neff had evidence one can't dispute: Audio of Spriggs making the comments that she says were "taken out of context."

He posted the recorded comments online at the paper's website, and it appears that he and fellow reporter Mandy Locke had quoted Spriggs verbatim.

At issue were remarks Spriggs made while she was president-elect of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD).  ASCLD's sister organization, ASCLD/LAB, accredits many forensics laboratories throughout the country, and failed to detect problems at the now-disgraced State Bureau of Investigation in North Carolina.

Spriggs publicly defended North Carolina agents' practice of writing reports with evidence "revealed chemical indications of blood," even when final, confirmatory tests actually ruled out the presence of blood.

Diane Savage, president of the group NC Attorneys for Science and Technology, criticized Spriggs  in a letter to the N&O.

"The lack of expertise of the new leader of ASCLD, the trade association of directors of crime labs across the U.S., is disappointing but no longer surprising," Savage wrote.

Last month, when we asked her about her statements, Spriggs said her comments were reported incorrectly, but declined to elaborate without permission from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Neither she nor anyone at the AG's office responded to our subsequent phone calls.

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Peter Jamison

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