Local News

Are more changes ahead for SBI?

Posted August 2, 2010 2:46 p.m. EDT
Updated August 2, 2010 7:05 p.m. EDT

— Within a week, Attorney General Roy Cooper temporarily halted the State Bureau of Investigation's practice of analyzing blood stain evidence and announced the head of the bureau was moving to a new role in his office.

But are more changes in store for the state's top law agency? Gov. Bev Perdue suggested Monday that there might be.

"The attorney general knows what he has to do to make sure the agency moves forward," Perdue said, following a meeting with education officials in Halifax County. "I trust his leadership, and I believe that any changes or reorganization that he needs will happen pretty quickly."

The Attorney General's Office did not have an immediate comment Monday.

Cooper's moves last week come amid an outside review of the SBI crime lab's methods and cases involving blood spatter analysis.

The findings are expected soon, although Cooper has not said when he thinks he will receive them or if he knows what they might be.

Earlier this year, Cooper asked two former FBI assistant directors to look at the crime lab's practices, following the exoneration of Gregory Taylor, who served nearly 17 years in prison for murder.

A special three-judge panel heard evidence in February that complete blood test results had been excluded from crime lab reports presented at Taylor's 1993 trial.

An SBI agent testified that the lab results, which could have helped prove Taylor's innocence, were not included in the reports because it was SBI policy at the time not to do so.

Robin Pendergraft, who took over as SBI director in 2001, admitted after Taylor was freed that the policy was not a good practice.

Defense attorneys have criticized her for not taking necessary steps to address problems when she became aware of them.

Cooper said the external review had nothing to do with Pendergraft stepping down to becoming a special deputy attorney general in his office's newly expanded Medicaid fraud unit.

"It's something I wanted her to do, because I need an experienced person to do it," he said Friday. In making the announcement, he called Pendergraft "an aggressive leader" and "a fighter for justice."

The SBI isn't the only government agency going through changes.

Last month, the commander of the State Highway Patrol announced he would leave his post effective Sept. 1 after his leadership became a target of critics, following numerous embarrassing incidents in recent years that have tarnished the agency's reputation.

Several state troopers have resigned, been fired or disciplined for inappropriate or questionable conduct, including profiling, drunken driving, sex on duty and inappropriate text messaging.

"You can't tar the whole Patrol because of a few people who have done bad things," said Perdue, who campaigned on a platform of transparency in government. "I have a zero-tolerance level for all those folks. I have fired them, and I will continue to do that."