State News

SBI looks to expand public oversight of crime lab

Posted January 13, 2011 10:24 a.m. EST
Updated January 13, 2011 6:43 p.m. EST

— The State Bureau of Investigation is looking to expand public oversight of its crime lab operations, opening its doors to input from the criminal justice community and forensic experts as it tries to repair a tarnished reputation, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said Thursday.

“Changes must be deliberate and thorough with a continued focus on quality,” he said. “That can’t happen immediately.”

Cooper said the crime lab is making significant progress in enhancing the way it works, including the appointment of an ombudsman – former District Judge Vinston Rozier of Wake County – to serve as a liaison between the agency and the criminal justice system and the public at large. He is also looking to establish a forensic science advisory board to review lab operations.

"With that expert help, we can ensure that lab analysts are at the cutting edge of technology and meeting the highest quality standards of forensic work," Cooper said.

Other changes include a comprehensive legal review of all lab sections and a plans to undergo a more stringent accreditation process.

The SBI is still looking for a permanent lab director, and agency director Greg McLeod said he hopes to announce a new leader in the coming months.

Officials are closely examining SBI operations in the wake of concerns raised last year about how agents handled blood evidence. An outside review of crime lab operations found some 200 cases that were improperly handled during a 16-year period ending in 2003.

"We've taken measures to strengthen our operations in light of some of the things identified in the independent review," McLeod said. "We're taking appropriate actions."

Thursday’s news conference comes nearly a week after the SBI fired Duane Deaver, a veteran agent connected to many of the cases that were improperly handled.

Deaver plans to appeal the firing. His attorney contends Deaver was fired for three issues that aren't grounds for termination.

McLeod declined to discuss the matter Thursday.