Authorities are planning to review the results of more than 1,000 drug tests handled by the troubled Nassau County police crime lab.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the evidence in about 900 felony drug arrests since 2007 will be retested following revelations last week that a sample of the lab’s analyses turned out to be compromised. In addition, a random sample of 10 percent of the work conducted by four lab analysts on both felony and misdemeanor drug cases will be reviewed.
“If you shake the public’s faith in the criminal justice system, it’s very difficult to get it back,” Rice said during a Tuesday news conference as she vowed to see the issues corrected.
In the meantime, evidence in drug cases are being sent to a private lab in Pennsylvania after County Executive Ed Mangano ordered the narcotics testing division of the police crime lab closed last week.
A county forensics expert from the medical examiner’s office was put in charge of the lab in December, shortly after the lab’s accreditation was put on probation following a negative review by an oversight agency.
The detective in charge of the lab has been reassigned along with the detectives under him while an internal review is underway into the root cause of the issues.
County officials have said the lab will be overhauled with new technology and protocols to meet qualifications and regain its full accreditation. It will also be civilianized, Rice said.
The crime lab crisis comes as authorities have been contending with a resurgence of heroin use across Long Island, which sparked a police crackdown on the drug.
Rice added that she believes the contract with the private lab and the renovation of the police facility should be paid for using asset-forfeiture funds—finances seized during criminal investigations. A spokeswoman for Mangano said it is too early to tell how much the contract and renovations will cost or how they will be financed.
The district attorney said about 16 challenges to drug arrests had been filed so far, although more are expected.
“It does shock me that the lab was in this kind of state of disrepair,” Mineola-base criminal defense attorney Marc Gann, a former prosecutor who is head of the Nassau County Bar Association, told the Press. “It opens up a much larger can of worms.”
Gann said attorneys with his organization are still gathering information to determine if they handled any cases that may be impacted by the findings.
Including both misdemeanor and felony drug arrests, there were about 9,000 drug tests handled by the lab in the past three years since it was last reviewed, Rice said.
She added that there is no reason to believe there were errors in the lab’s other functions, such as finger print analysis and ballistics testing.