December 19, 2004

Supervisor accused of passing off DNA test

Investigation reveals incident only occurred once

Record-Eagle staff writer

      TRAVERSE CITY - A former supervisor in the Michigan State Police Crime Lab's DNA analysis unit had a subordinate take a required proficiency test for him last year, an internal investigation found.

      A state police commander said the incident doesn't affect the integrity of the hundreds of DNA tests done by the Lansing lab each year. But prosecutors statewide are cautiously taking a hard look at past cases.

      "I would consider this possibly exculpatory information I should provide to the defense," said Marquette County Prosecutor Gary Walker, chairman of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

      Added Antrim County Prosecutor Charles Koop: "We're trying to figure out our damage."

      State police and attorney general's office officials declined to name those involved in the bogus test. But sources familiar with the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified Charles Barna as the former laboratory administrator alleged to have improperly passed off the test. The name of the subordinate employee who took the test for Barna was not disclosed.

      Barna resigned from the state police earlier this year. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

      State police forensic science division commander Capt. Michael Thomas, while not naming Barna, said the administrator involved "was not involved in casework."

      The state police require all crime lab analysts to take annual proficiency tests in their area of expertise, twice-a-year tests for those involved in DNA analysis, Thomas said. Investigation revealed the test pass-off occurred only one time, he said.

      DNA testing for criminal cases is done by a crime lab analyst whose findings are then reviewed by a second scientist in the same area of expertise using strict, technical criteria, Thomas said.

      Thomas said the administrator involved reviewed DNA findings only after a report already was written from the first and second analysts, "making sure there are no grammatical errors and that it is in the format in which we submit laboratory reports."

      Two outside audits of the lab's work, by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General and the National Forensic Science Technology Center, have been conducted since the incident came to light, Thomas said. State police await final reports from those reviews, but exit interviews indicated "there was no concern about the casework coming out of our laboratory system," he said.

      The incident, far from showing a failure in the lab's procedures, showed just the opposite, Thomas said.

      "What we identified is that our procedures and quality assurance program works," he said. "It immediately identified a situation that we deemed inappropriate, and it was immediately addressed."