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Crime lab error leads to six-month audit of drug analysis in Hamilton County


A drug test error at the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office and Crime Lab triggered a six-month review of drug cases. The lab is housed in a new modern building in Blue Ash that opened last year. The agency is responsible for testing suspected drugs in criminal cases. The investigation stems from a drug possession case in Springfield Township. In August 2021, Brian Freeman was stopped by police and searched at a gas station there. He has had trouble with the law in the past and also dealt with a drug problem. But when the police found orange Tums in his pocket and suspected they were illegal drugs, he kept his innocence for a year. “I was detained, searched and they found Tums in my pocket in a handbag, and said they were going to send them to the lab and get tested,” he said. “They actually say Tums on the tablet.” The Crime Lab tested these pills in early September and reported that the drugs were positive for cocaine. A warrant for Freeman’s arrest on drug possession charges was signed in late December 2021. Freeman didn’t know there was a warrant for his arrest until he was pulled into a car with his family, including his 8-year-old nephew. , Freeman said: “I was grabbed by the neck at the gun, and told I had a warrant for cocaine possession,” Freeman said. He has also lost his roofing job due to the fees he is facing. “I was thinking ‘I’m definitely going to jail’, because who gets out of something like this that often?” He says. “At first, they wanted me to go to drug clinics and classes and make excuses. And I said no. I’m not guilty.” .Freeman said Pundzak considers his case perfect. She fought to try drugs again. She enlisted the help of the Hamilton County Office of Public Protection, which paid more than $1,200 to an independent lab to retest the drugs. The judge overseeing the case ordered the county crime lab to rerun the test, and at that point, the crime lab’s results also came back negative. “I’m really touched by his story, and he’s really trying to change his life. Although I might be a little surprised that the results were negative, I’m extremely happy for him. “, she said. “The only reason this is happening is because the public defender’s office can and is willing to fund a costly, independent inspection here. And obviously, that can’t be done in the every case someone comes in and says it’s not a drug. It’s not a drug. “It’s an issue that can shake anyone’s confidence,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s very unlikely that this is the only false-positive test that the Hamilton County Crime Lab has done. carried out.” Kennedy was also involved in a murder in 2015 that led to another examination at the crime lab in 2020. A man has been charged in a North Avondale murder but was cleared of the crime. acquitted after the crime lab failed to release a second DNA to the defense team The Innocence Project filed a civil rights lawsuit that resulted in a massive settlement and a grave The Cincinnati police department’s audit of DNA-related homicides over a seven-year period. “The lab will maintain these as individual incidents, but the sheer number of them raises a serious question,” Kennedy said. “I think they should check all the forensic evidence in this Hamilton County crime lab, whether it’s DNA, whether it’s other trace evidence or not.” Crime lab officials did not say if there were any theories as to how the error happened. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are performing an internal review of the analyst’s work three months before and three months after this particular case. That review is still ongoing and, as a result, is unavailable. What additional information to release at this time,” Hamilton County Coroner’s Superintendent of Investigation Andrea Hatten said in a statement. Emails between the coroner’s office and the prosecutor’s office showed that the lab could not rule out the possibility of cross-contamination when testing occurred. Defense attorneys who spoke to WLWT on Thursday expressed concern about the scope of the audit and the potential for additional inaccuracies in other audits. “I don’t think whether you’re on the prosecutor’s side or the defense side or if you’re a police officer, nobody wants to be found guilty and nobody wants false results from our state-of-the-art crime lab,” he said. Pundzak said. “We really don’t know if this is the user’s fault at this point or if this is an issue with their technology and until we can figure that out, I think it would be wise to do so.” a broader examination.”

A drug test error at the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office and Crime Lab triggered a six-month review of drug cases.

The lab is housed in a new modern building in Blue Ash that opened last year. It is responsible for testing suspect drugs in criminal cases.

An incorrect result from an antacid kit tested in September 2021 led to a test a year later. The investigation stems from a drug possession case in Springfield Township. In August 2021, Brian Freeman was stopped by police and searched at a gas station there.

Freeman admits he’s not perfect. He has had trouble with the law in the past and also dealt with a drug problem. But when the police found orange Tums in his pocket and suspected them to be illegal drugs, he maintained his innocence for a year.

“I was detained, searched and they found Tums in my pocket in a handbag, and said they would send them to the lab and get tested,” he said. “They actually say Tums on the tablet.”

The Crime Lab tested these pills in early September and reported that the drugs were positive for cocaine. A warrant for Freeman’s arrest on drug possession charges was signed at the end of December 2021.

Freeman didn’t know there was a warrant for his arrest until he was pulled into a car with his family, including his 8-year-old grandson, just days before the New Year’s Eve.

“I was pulled over the gun, lying on the ground, told I had a warrant for cocaine possession,” Freeman said.

He spent a week in jail before his family could tie him up. He has also lost his roofing job due to the fees he is facing.

“I was thinking ‘I’m definitely going to jail’, because who gets out of this sort of thing so often?” He says. “At first, they wanted me to go to drug clinics and classes and plead guilty. And I said no. I’m not guilty.”

His charges were dismissed in the interest of justice on August 29, eight months after defense attorney Lynn Pundzak stepped in.

Freeman said Pundzak considers his case fully deserved. She fought to try drugs again. She enlisted the help of the Hamilton County Office of Public Protection, which paid more than $1,200 for an independent lab to retest the drugs.

The results give negative results for any controlled substance. The judge overseeing the case ordered the county crime lab to rerun the test, and at that point, the crime lab’s results also came back negative.

“I’m really touched by his story, and he’s really trying to change his life. Although I might be a little surprised that the results were negative, I’m extremely happy for him. “, she said. “The only reason this is happening is because the public defender’s office can and is willing to fund a costly, independent inspection here. And obviously, that can’t be done in the every case someone comes in and says it’s not a drug. It’s not a drug. it’s not a drug.”

John Kennedy is director of the felony division of the Hamilton County Office of Public Protection.

“It’s an issue that can shake anyone’s confidence,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s very unlikely that this is the only false-positive test that the Hamilton County Crime Lab has performed.”

Kennedy was also involved in a 2015 murder that led to another audit at the crime lab in 2020. A man was charged in a North Avondale murder but acquitted after the defense. The criminal experiment doesn’t reveal the second DNA to the defense team. The Innocence Project filed a civil rights lawsuit that resulted in a large settlement and an audit of the Cincinnati police department’s DNA-related murders over a seven-year period.

“The lab will maintain these as individual incidents, but the sheer number of them raises a serious question,” Kennedy said. “I think they should check all the forensic evidence in this Hamilton County crime lab, whether it’s DNA, whether it’s other trailing evidence.”

Crime lab officials have not yet said whether there are theories as to how the error happened.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are performing an internal review of the analyst’s work three months before and three months after this particular case. That review is still ongoing and, as a result, is unavailable. What additional information to release at this time,” Hamilton County Coroner CEO Andrea Hatten said in a statement.

Emails between the coroner’s office and the prosecutor’s office showed that the lab could not rule out the possibility of cross-contamination when testing occurred.

Defense attorneys who spoke to WLWT on Thursday expressed concern about the scope of the audit and the potential for additional inaccuracies in other audits.

“I don’t think whether you’re on the prosecution side or the defense side or if you’re a police officer, nobody wants to be convicted and nobody wants to have a false outcome from our state,” Pundzak said. really don’t know if this is the user’s fault at this point or this is a problem with their technology and until we can figure that out I think it would be wise to do an audit. investigate a broader range.”



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