NC officials defend firing of SBI analyst
Posted April 3
Raleigh, N.C. — State Bureau of Investigation director Greg McLeod said Thursday that a blood analyst was fired from the state crime lab three years ago for unprofessional conduct and violations of agency policy.
The analyst, Duane Deaver, is appealing his January 2011 termination in the state's Office of Administrative Hearings.
SBI officials cited three findings in the decision to fire Deaver:
- The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission accused him of intentionally misleading the panel during a 2009 hearing on Greg Taylor, who was later determined to have been wrongly convicted in a Raleigh murder case.
- At the end of a 2009 video demonstration of blood spatter analysis in a case, he said, "That's a wrap, baby."
- While on leave in late 2010 while the SBI investigated questions of his performance raised in an outside review of the state crime lab, he didn't notify his superiors or seek their approval before assisting a criminal profiler in filing a formal complaint against a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent who was providing a profile in a western North Carolina case.
Although an internal committee handling Deaver's grievance over his firing later determined that he should be reinstated, McLeod refused to do so. On Thursday, he outlined his belief that the committee understated the severity of the allegations against Deaver.
The credibility of a law enforcement officer is critical to being able to carry out his or her job, McLeod said, so the "unprecedented" perjury allegation raised a major red flag for him.
"A judicial tribunal said they believed Mr. Deaver made false statements and misled them," McLeod said. "It was a much more serious matter than what's provided in the notes here."
Kristi Jones, chief of staff at the state Department of Justice, who upheld Deaver's firing, likewise disagreed with grievance committee's findings that Deaver be reinstated and said there was just cause for his dismissal.
"It was pretty serious," Jones said of the potential contempt charge against Deaver for possible perjury. "It was more that a mere allegation."
Deaver's comment in the 2009 video went beyond being unprofessional, McLeod said, calling it "embarrassing."
Regarding Deaver's participation in the complaint against the South Carolina agent, McLeod said Deaver not only didn't notify his superiors about the move, he also provided confidential information from an SBI investigation to an outside group.
Although the committee determined that Deaver was authorized to share SBI files with the profiler, Jones said Deaver's request that his name be kept out of the complaint suggested he knew his actions were inappropriate.
Deaver's lawyers argue that the SBI made him a scapegoat while the agency was under legislative and public scrutiny for the policies and procedures of the state crime lab.
A 2010 independent review of the crime lab concluded that SBI analysts had misstated or falsely reported blood evidence in about 200 criminal cases during a 16-year period ending in 2003. Some of the most egregious violations found were linked to Deaver.
Randy Myers, a former SBI agent who investigated the perjury allegation, said that he thought Deaver was unfairly singled out, but he stopped short of saying that the agency planned to push him out.
"My impression was somebody was loading up on this man," Myers testified.
Myers' investigation found that some members of the Innocence Inquiry Commission didn't believe Deaver perjured himself, and at least one couldn't even remember what Deaver said to prompt a defense attorney to make the initial accusation. He said he personally didn't think there was any perjury – the defense attorney could have been more precise in his questioning, he said – and he was stunned when the commission sought a contempt hearing in the case.
"I thought, 'Are you crazy?'" he said when a commission staffer told him about the contempt hearing.
On Wednesday, former SBI director Robin Pendergraft said she believed the perjury allegation needed to be investigated more before any action was taken against Deaver. She said she didn't believe either of the other two reasons cited for Deaver's termination was a firing offense.
Both McLeod and Jones testified that, if Administrative Law Judge James Conner determines that Deaver was unjustly fired, he shouldn't be reinstated, citing court rulings that found Deaver misled jurors in Mike Peterson's 2003 murder trial.
Peterson, a novelist and one-time Durham mayoral candidate, was granted a new trial in 2011 in the death of his wife a decade earlier. A Superior Court judge and the state Court of Appeals determined that Deaver's exaggeration of his expertise and his overstatement of the accuracy of his blood-spatter tests denied Peterson's right to a fair trial.
Similar to the questions surrounding the perjury allegations before the Innocence Inquiry Commission, McLeod and Jones said Deaver's actions in the Peterson case would justify his dismissal from the SBI.