January 30, 2010 7:02 PM
JOHN C. ENSSLIN
The number of flawed blood alcohol tests has doubled since a Colorado Springs Police Crime Lab internal audit last year discovered that some results were inflated, authorities said last week.
Results in 167 DUI cases have been called into question, up from the initial 82 that were disclosed in December, according to 4th Judicial District Senior Deputy District Attorney Frederick Stein.
Stein could not say yet what the impact of the erroneous tests would be on the criminal cases involved, but added that the DA’s office hopes have a report compiling those outcomes within the next two weeks.
On Dec. 11, the police department reported that a routine audit had discovered the errors and began both an internal and external investigation into how reported test results came in higher than the actual level.
At the time, the department started re-testing about 1,000 blood alcohol test results taken since January 2009.
Meanwhile, prosecutors contacted individuals in the cases that were based upon the incorrect test results. The District Attorney’s office also fielded about 140 phone calls in December on a hot line set up for people who wanted to know if theirs was among the affected cases. Authorities have not released the names of the defendants in those cases.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigations is conducting the external investigation while the police department conducts its own internal review. Both of those investigations are ongoing, police spokesman Lt. David Whitlock said Friday.
“I can’t say anything definitive about the underlying cause,” Whitlock said. “What has occurred is that we’ve narrowed it down to the point where we believe it is likely a human error. We believe very strongly that it’s not an equipment failure or something inherent in the lab itself.”
He would not say whether investigators believe the errors were made by an individual or several people.
In January, the police department also disclosed that a refrigerator that held DNA evidence had malfunctioned over a four-day period in December. Police, however, said experts did not believe the 235 samples of blood, semen and urine had been rendered unusable by the accident.
One Colorado Springs lawyer who specializes in DUI cases said the department needs to let the public know what caused the blood alcohol errors to happen in the first place.
“If you identify the problem then you should be able to fix it,” said Timothy Bussey, a former prosecutor. “But if you can’t, then that’s a problem.”
Bussey filed a Colorado Open Records Act requesting detailed information on the lab errors. In response, the department provided him with some records, but not most of what he requested. He has filed an appeal.
He did obtain one document, however, that gives a clue as to what investigators believe might be the source of the problem: a discrepancy in the concentration of the chemical n-Propanol, aclear, polar water-soluble solvent
with a very mild odor.
According to a Dec. 9 memo from Crime Lab Supervisor Ian Fitch, evidence suggested that in the flawed batches, less n-Propanol was added to the unknown blood samples than to those being used as a standard and control.
Whitlock could not estimate how long the internal investigation will take, but said the department is eager to share what it finds out.
“We know this is something that is a concern to the public and involves our credibility,” he said. “We’re eager to tell them how we’ll fix it.”
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