The NYC Medical Examiner's Office is reviewing more than 800 rape cases after discovering that an error-prone lab technician botched an untold number of DNA investigations. So far, after reviewing roughly half the cases, they've found 26 cases in which the tech missed biological evidence when some actually existed. The technician, who has not been identified, worked in the office for nine years before supervisors began to notice discrepancies in her work. After they began taking a closer look at the methods, they moved to fire her, and she resigned.
The technician's responsibilities included inspecting victims' underwear to find stains that might indicate DNA. According to the Times, "Sometimes she overlooked stains, the review found. At other times, she identified stains, but then botched the chemical test used to detect semen and reported finding nothing." It gets worse:
In the course of reviewing the technician’s work, supervisors discovered another problem. Sixteen pieces of evidence, generally swabs sealed in paper envelopes, were found in the wrong rape kit, commingling DNA evidence from 19 rape investigations, according to a letter from the medical examiner’s office.
"Our guess is the technician had both kits open at the same time, and when she was reassembling the case files, evidently she had misplaced the evidence items from one kit to another,” Eugene Lien, a quality assurance manager with the medical examiner’s office, told a state oversight board last year. It was not “standard policy at all,” he added, for a technician to have two cases open at once.
An attorney for the ME's office says they're "leaving no stone unturned in recalling casework she touched," and staffers have been working overtime to review all the cases that may have been Barney Fifed. ("We call it a jamboree," the office's Quality Assurance manager told an oversight board in September.) And for what it's worth the ME's Director of Forensic Biology assures the Times that "we do know that nobody was wrongfully convicted," not that it makes this unmitigated shitshow any less infuriating.