You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Austin police hand over keys of troubled DNA lab to state


Highlights

Agreement would pay the DPS $800,000 a year to manage lab, provide some DNA analysts.

Officials hope to have DNA testing complete on 2,500 backlogged cases by April 2018.

City officials plan to reopen the troubled Austin police DNA lab under an agreement in which the state will oversee the day-to-day operation of the now-shuttered facility, the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV learned Wednesday.

Under a proposed contract, the city of Austin will pay the Texas Department of Public Safety $800,000 a year to manage all aspects of the lab, including procedures for analyzing forensic evidence and the oversight of employees hired by the DPS to work there.

The newly named Department of Public Safety Capital Area Regional Lab will focus exclusively on Austin police cases, Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said.

“Right now, we have a multimillion-dollar lab that is not being used, and this contract will allow the facility, which has remained vacant and underutilized, to be fully functional,” Gay said. Austin police will have “no management and oversight responsibilities,” he said.

RELATED: Austin police give up on DNA lab, demote leader as problems swirl

The proposed deal is uncommon for DNA testing. Although the DPS routinely provides forensics testing for police departments when it is asked by local investigators, it is rare for it to take over operations of a city’s lab.

The effort to resurrect the lab is a significant step for a facility that has faced intense state scrutiny since last summer, triggering questions about the quality of evidence testing and potentially jeopardizing major criminal cases.

Austin police officials in June closed the lab after the Texas Forensic Science Commission cited a lack of properly trained staff and said workers were using incorrect methods when they examined DNA samples — frequently key evidence in violent crimes such as homicides and sexual assaults.

The issues raised concerns about how well Austin police had operated the facility and led to calls by some in the criminal justice community for the lab to be run by a private operator.

Gay said the contract with the DPS will allow police to continue analyzing DNA samples as city and county leaders determine the most suitable path forward — a process he said could take several months while cases sit untested or wait to be funneled to a private lab.

Austin police have been working with DPS officials since the summer, beginning with an effort that initially focused on additional training for Austin police staff to get the lab running again. However, DPS officials in December said they had lost faith in most of Austin’s DNA lab employees and agreed to only continue training a couple of them at the state lab in North Austin.

Gay said under the deal, the lab would employ about nine staffers, some of whom might already work for the DPS. A few Austin police staffers who worked in the lab until it closed last year and have since been shifted to other jobs in the department might return.

Police said the current proposal would allow Austin police to address what has been a significant backlog of cases sitting on lab shelves awaiting analysis. As of this week, Gay said the Police Department has 2,535 cases awaiting DNA testing, 1,686 of which are from reported sexual assaults.

The department has already contracted — or plans to contract — with three private labs that have agreed to test Austin police DNA evidence.

Gay said that, with those private labs working in conjunction with the DPS-operated Austin police facility, officials hope to have testing on all cases performed by April 2018, “which is very aggressive.”

The proposed agreement is scheduled to go to the Austin City Council on March 23. Gay spent much of Wednesday briefing council members about the proposed DPS contract.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore sent a letter to council members urging them to approve the agreement.

“Although this interim solution will not eliminate the need for outsourcing to private labs, it will help to alleviate some of the serious capacity issues that are making it difficult to have DNA testing of evidence in pending cases and investigations completed in a timely manner,” Moore wrote.

The council will also vote on an agreement between the city and county for a national expert to be paid up to $850,000 for two years to review possible missteps in the Austin police crime lab that led to the issues found by the state.

Meanwhile, Travis County prosecutors have alerted defendants in 2,200 cases that their cases might be eligible to be reviewed as a result of possible improper testing at the facility.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Austin district leaders launch three new early college high schools
Austin district leaders launch three new early college high schools

The Austin school district this fall will launch three new early college high schools, giving thousands of students an opportunity to earn an associate degree while earning their high school diploma. Crockett, Eastside Memorial and Lanier will offer the program, allowing students to earn up to 60 hours of college credit. The district partners with...
Even before Trump threat, mothers and children separated at the border
Even before Trump threat, mothers and children separated at the border

Ana Mendoza, a 29-year-old Honduran immigrant, can’t erase the image from her mind: With her 10-year-old son and 12-year-old cousin in tow, she had arrived at the International Bridge in Hidalgo on Jan. 19, the day before President Donald Trump was to be inaugurated. Mendoza, fleeing gang violence in her homeland, believed the family would be...
Travis Co. DA seeks federal review of Kleinert police shooting case
Travis Co. DA seeks federal review of Kleinert police shooting case

The Travis County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday that, despite a recent setback, it will continue to pursue criminal charges against a former Austin police detective who shot an unarmed man to death in 2013. On April 20, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Criminal Appeals Fifth Circuit upheld a lower court’s dismissal...
Central Texas’ loneliest falcon might live on top of the UT Tower
Central Texas’ loneliest falcon might live on top of the UT Tower

Central Texas’ loneliest falcon might live in a wooden box on top of the UT Tower. And now we’ve taken her eggs. According to KUT, “the only peregrine falcon that lives year-round in Central Texas” lives atop the UT Tower, where she has twice laid a nest full of eggs, only to have them remain unfertilized. As the falcon...
Missing woman found in well hole in neighbor’s shed; man charged with kidnapping
Missing woman found in well hole in neighbor’s shed; man charged with kidnapping

Police arrested a man Wednesday morning after authorities found a missing woman trapped inside his shed. Jennifer Elliot was reported missing just after midnight Wednesday and was found around 4 a.m. after residents heard her cries coming from a shed on Central Avenue in Blanchester.  Police went to the 100 block of Central Avenue after a neighbor...
More Stories