State Patrol Crime Lab Called Into Question After Sloppy Work By Employee
10TV has uncovered questions of quality control at the state lab providing data for law enforcement agencies across Ohio.
Accused drunk drivers, among others, are convicted or exonerated based on results from the Ohio State Highway Patrol Crime Lab.
An internal investigation reveals skipped steps and sloppy work by an employee, and statements by her supervisors that raise questions about how long it’s gone on.
They are life and death decisions: actions that can change the course of a life, even end one. Like the decision to drink and drive.
Often the only source of comfort in the face of such loss is that the offender be held accountable.
The key to that accountability resides at the Ohio State Highway Patrol lab, where criminalists find the proof that can either convict or exonerate.
"It affects everybody. It affects all sides," said DUI Defense Attorney Jon Saia.
He says holes in the lab work can be an accused drunk driver's best friend.
"Test results may not be valid. The evidence isn't good. It should be thrown out," he said.
He knows firsthand. Casey Hakes was his client.
Hakes had already been convicted of OVI four times when he hit and killed 19 year old Elissa Hatfield in July of 2012.
Hatfield was on her bike, and investigators ruled she failed to yield to Hakes' vehicle.
Toxicology tests showed Hakes blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit at the time.
So what did he get for his fifth OVI?
"The outcome was a plea to an OVI charge with a sentence of only 30 days in jail,” said Saia. “Because of the fact that there was evidence problems with regard to that case.”
Without those evidence problems, Saia says Hakes faced up to a year in jail.
The “evidence problems” Saia refers to is work done by State Highway Patrol Criminalist Emily Adelman.
Adelman was the focus of two internal investigations last year, the first when her supervisors found that she was producing half of what her fellow criminalists were.
The investigation found she'd spent hours surfing the web- planning her wedding, shopping, and paying personal bills- on state computers, on state time.
Adelman was put on a probationary period with extra supervision.
That's when her supervisors found something much more troubling: violations that could call into question the accreditation of the lab.
A second investigation found Adelman "blatantly violating work rules" in a workplace where rules are everything.
Deana Nielsen is a Crime Lab Director. She says lab protocols are very specific, and must be followed to the letter.
“Because it's a very important job that we do, and we take it very seriously. We have to maintain integrity throughout every step within this laboratory."
Yet the internal investigation found Adelman
-listed the wrong assignment date on 48 drug screens
-in two drug screens reported using a testing substance that had already been depleted
-documented transfer of samples several days after they'd been completed
and -destroyed a daily status report, recreated it three days later, and backdated it.
A move investigators say "defies common sense and is a clear violation of laboratory protocols"
Yet Adelman's supervisors admit her errors were only discovered "because they were monitoring her work.”
One Lab Director says, "It's highly likely that she has done the same thing in the past and her actions have never been caught.”
Neilsen said, "that statement was made prior to our new system coming in place. The new computer system…now lets us have an electronic trail."
Nielsen says no work leaves the lab without multiple reviews.
She points out the lab is internationally accredited, and says an audit of Adelman's work found no discrepancies in her test results.
Defense Attorney Saia says the case exposes larger issues at the state lab.
“As a defense attorney, I'm thrilled,” he said. “As a citizen, I'm disgusted."
Nielsen said lab employees were only trying to see justice served, and admitted the lapses were upsetting, but denied a larger issue at the lab.
“We don't want this type of thing to happen. But we feel with the fail-safes we have in place, we put forth a quality product. The integrity is solid within this laboratory."
Emily Adelman was given a punishment of one day paid suspension.
She continues to work at the state lab as a criminalist. She declined comment.
The City Prosecutor's Office tells 10TV Adelman's test results on the Hakes case were accurate, but her violations raised too many questions to take before a jury.