APD lab whistleblower breaks her silence about operations

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by SHELTON GREEN / KVUE News

Bio | Email | Follow: @SheltonG_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on January 19, 2012 at 10:37 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 19 at 11:42 PM

AUSTIN -- A former chemist at the Austin Police Forensics Lab who filed complaints about operations told KVUE News Thursday that she is far from being a disgruntled ex-employee as she was described by an assistant chief with Austin Police last week. 

“I really don't think I was disgruntled," said Debbie Stephens.  "I think I was ethical and moral. I received over five superior service awards while I was at APD.” 
 
Stephens began working at APD's Forensic Lab in 2002. A few years later, the chemist began analyzing blood and alcohol samples. That’s when she says she noticed issues with other chemists.
 
“They were releasing the results and then they were doing the testing later and I think it was pressure by the police department to produce results quickly,” added Stephens.
 
“We have our fellow citizens sitting in jails and prisons based on science that has not been validated,” says Jamie Balagia, a former APD officer who is now an attorney representing Stephens.
 
Last week, Assistant Police Chief Sean Mannix told KVUE that Stephens was an angry, ex-employee who filed her first of three complaints against the lab the day she was terminated in April of 2011.
 
Not so, says Stephens who claims she filed her first complaint about a lack of a promotion in 2006.
 
When asked if the Austin community should continue to have faith in the operations at  the forensics lab, Stephens said no.
 
"I think that a hard look needs to be taken from the top down, especially the administration, because they are the ones determining what policies and what results are being released.”
 
In July 2010, another former crime lab employee came forward with complaints about the DNA portion of the lab, alleging a lack of training for some employees. An investigation later found no problems.
 
Stephens filed a complaint last week with the Travis County district attorney, who turned over the investigation to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
 
“DPS accredited the Austin Police Lab. So now we're asking DPS to do a proper and just investigation which should by the evidence we've seen reveal that the Austin lab should not have been accredited,” added Balagia.
 
Austin police did not comment Thursday on Stephen's accusations. 

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