State crime-lab chief to resign
Seattle Times staff reporter
The embattled director of the State Patrol crime labs has resigned, accepting responsibility for allegations of sloppy work and fraud that jeopardized more than 100 DUI breath-test results in the past year.
"I feel a great deal of responsibility when there are errors made that undermine public confidence in our breath-test program," said Barry Logan, director of the Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, shortly after announcing his resignation Thursday. "I felt that I reached a point where I have done as much as I can, and that led to my decision to step down."
Logan's resignation comes just two weeks after a panel of King County judges ruled that the state toxicology lab — one of the two labs overseen by Logan — engaged in "fraudulent and scientifically unacceptable" practices while preparing and analyzing breath tests used to prosecute suspected drunken drivers. The judges called for the suppression of the tests and laid much of the blame on Logan, finding he bore "a good deal of the responsibility for [the lab's] shortcomings."
Another panel of judges, from Skagit County, had earlier accused Logan of misconduct for his handling of the lab.
Logan said his decision to resign effective March 14 was made during a discussion Thursday with State Patrol Chief John Batiste.
"I sat down with Dr. Logan to have a very, very important conversation and we both came to a mutual decision," Batiste said. He said Logan's resignation was made "in order to move the lab to the next level and fully restore full confidence of the lab to the citizens and the judiciary system."
Logan has been state toxicologist since 1990. Nine years later he was also named director of the Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, which was created to coordinate the efforts of programs including the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory and the State Patrol Crime Laboratory Division.
Logan said he believes the troubles that have plagued the bureau over the past year could be attributed to the fact that his work amounted to two full-time jobs. "I was trying to do two jobs over the last nine years," said Logan, who has an annual salary of $120,000.
The jobs will now be held by two people. Batiste has appointed crime-lab division manager Larry Hebert, a 34-year veteran, to head the Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau on an interim basis. Dr. Fiona Couper has been named state toxicologist.
Despite Logan's resignation, Batiste defended the work of the bureau.
"I believe the Tox Lab is staffed by competent, ethical people who do great work," Batiste said in a news release. "Barry has done an exceptional job of addressing the issues discovered during this difficult period. But he and I have agreed that maintaining forward momentum will require different leadership."
Nonetheless, confidence in the Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau has been rocked in the past year after questions were raised over employees in the breath-testing program and the work of a respected firearms expert.
The breath-testing program came under scrutiny when former toxicology lab manager Ann Marie Gordon was accused of falsely claiming to have verified solutions used for breath testing in drunken-driving cases. Gordon resigned in July.
As a result, several counties held hearings over the admissibility of breath tests from a specific time period.
Last fall, Skagit County judges ruled in favor of allowing the tests but criticized the lab for the way it handled the testing. Snohomish County judges ruled against allowing the breath tests to be used in drunken-driving cases.
In its blistering 29-page ruling, the panel of three King County District Court judges said last month the lab created a "culture of compromise" with so many "ethical lapses, systemic inaccuracy, negligence and violations of scientific principles" that the breath tests should not be used as evidence in pending DUI cases. The judges found that a "multiplicity of errors," including how breath-test results were analyzed and verified at the lab, affected thousands of cases in recent years.
The ruling directly affected eight cases currently before King County district courts, and more than 100 that were on hold pending the ruling. It also could affect many others that have already been resolved, because the ruling is expected to open the door for appeals.
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office, said the office is not planning to appeal the judges' ruling.
The State Patrol announced earlier this month that it was sending letters to 130 people who received drunken-driving citations that were based on faulty breath tests. The letters explain the errors and how they occurred, and recommends that recipients contact their attorney.
Gordon last year also destroyed blood samples taken from Frederick Russell after a deadly 2001 car crash in which three Washington State University students were killed. Russell sought to have the blood-test results thrown out because his defense team could not independently analyze them.
Logan defended Gordon, saying destruction of the samples was an accident. He said he did not conduct an independent investigation.
Russell was later convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.
Other troubles for the bureau came when a former forensic scientist who provided crucial testimony in more than 1,000 shooting cases during the past decade resigned in April amid allegations that some of his work contained serious errors.
Evan Thompson, 57, had investigated some of the region's most high-profile shooting cases since joining the crime lab as a firearms and tool-mark examiner in 1995. The Patrol has said it found three errors in his cases, prompting a broader review of his work.
"Evan Thompson is not the first person we have let go from this organization," Logan said on Thursday. "If I looked at a crime laboratory that didn't have to fire anybody, I would be worried. Of course people make mistakes."
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company