Iowa fires crime lab worker after noting errors

DES MOINES – Iowa public safety officials are tightening oversight at the state police crime lab after firing an employee they said mishandled fingerprint data.

Authorities said a review shows at least nine cases analyzed by the staffer in 2012 contained errors, and in two of those cases the employee missed the opportunity to match the data to a suspect. The department is contacting local authorities impacted by the mistakes and plans to toughen their review process.

“Our local partners rely on the state crime lab to provide accurate results,” said Charis Paulson, director of the Division of Criminal Investigation. “We’re going to work to continue to enhance our quality control processes.”

The name of the fired employee, who was fired Wednesday, was not released. The employee had been with the department for more than 16 years.

The state Department of Public Safety runs Iowa’s only crime lab, providing data analysis for law enforcement agencies around the state. The lab has about 40 full-time criminologists and handles about 15,000 cases each year.

Laboratory administrator Bruce Reeve said the employee’s work was flagged after a routine internal review of some cases. A closer look revealed that the staffer had incorrectly classified fingerprint evidence as unusable in nine cases. But other analysts were able to use the data. In two of those cases, this yielded a match with a suspect and in the other seven the evidence was entered in a federal fingerprint database.

Authorities said the errors didn’t lead to any wrongful convictions or derail any violent crime investigations.

Paulson said the review into the employee’s past work continues. She said officials were glad they caught the errors but pledged in the future that more cases will get a second look before the results are sent to local agencies.

Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald is overseeing a drug investigation that had evidence improperly handled by the fired employee. He said a suspect had been arrested without the fingerprint evidence. He praised the state department for its internal policing and candor about the mistakes.

“As far as I’m concerned, kudos to them. They’re doing their own check,” Fitzgerald said. “I have no problems with confidence in DCI.”