Police Chief Smith taps senior commander to put St. Paul crime lab in orderby Jon Collins, Minnesota Public Radio,
Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio,
Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Police Chief Thomas Smith appointed a new head of St. Paul's troubled crime lab on Thursday.
Senior Commander Colleen Luna will lead the lab's reorganization, Smith said.
Smith suspended drug testing at the lab after two workers and the director testified at a Dakota County court case this week that the lab had no standard procedures for drug testing and did not document the steps taken while testing evidence for drugs.
Smith said during a press conference Thursday that the department had a draft of operating procedures under review, but that the procedures had yet to be approved.
"They are going through a review process, and that review has not been finalized and signed," Smith said. "That, we believe, is why our staff answered that they do not have... standard operating procedures."
Smith said he was not aware of problems with the crime lab until this week.
"I've been made aware that we have made some mistakes and there are things we can improve upon," Smith said. "I'm going to do everything, and I do mean everything, including no stones unturned to make sure that we get back up to the exceptional standards in that crime lab that I expect and that the public expects."
Smith said the department will pay to re-test evidence in the drug possession case against Matthew Jensen, 29, of Rochester, which spurred criticism of the lab's procedures. The testing will be performed by an independent lab.
The lab also served county attorneys in Washington, Dakota and Ramsey counties. Smith said police are working with prosecutors to find alternate drug testing venues for other pending cases.
"With pending or current cases, we are going to have all those narcotics re-examined," Smith said. "We are working again through our review process to find a independent laboratory that will be able to review those cases to make sure there's quality control and that those cases can proceed forward."
Smith said he could not discuss whether past cases would also be reviewed. County attorneys told MPR News on Wednesday that they are examining whether allegations about the lab's practices will affect past drug cases and convictions.
Madeleine Baran is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.