NYC ME suspends DNA lab director, fires deputy

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The city medical examiner's office said Thursday it had suspended its DNA lab director and fired the lab's deputy director over issues of quality assurance after it was discovered that scores of unidentified genetic samples were not sent to a state database as required.

The foul-up affecting 55 cases was discovered as part of an earlier investigation of errors in the lab's handling of some sexual assault kits, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the city's medical examiner, Dr. Charles Hirsch, in a statement.

Neither the lab director nor the deputy director were named. But correspondence from the medical examiner's office and staff listings name Dr. Mechthild Prinz as the director of the department of forensic biology, which is responsible for DNA analysis. She is widely respected in the field of DNA research and was involved in the effort to identify 9/11 victims' remains.

Prinz didn't return a telephone call or email Thursday for comment.

Borakove wouldn't comment on the identities of the employees affected. In a statement, Borakove noted that the lapses in the lab should have been reported immediately. Lab management also didn't request a thorough review, she added.

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"Unfortunately, those actions were not taken with appropriate speed," Borakove said in a statement.

"While 55 represents a minuscule percentage of the overall total of 25,0000 profiles entered since 2000 [when the system was implemented], all profiles must be uploaded and the failure is not acceptable for a world-class DNA lab that prides itself on accuracy and attention to detail," Borakove wrote.

After the 55 DNA samples were sent to the state database, a positive hit in one -- a 2006 robbery case -- was found, Borakove said.

Last year, Hirsch's office disclosed that a former lab worker, who wasn't qualified as a DNA analyst, incorrectly recorded negative results in processing rape kits when, in fact, the results were positive for either blood or semen. Nearly 900 cases, including homicides, were re-examined as part of the probe and revealed misplaced evidence involving 19 cases, officials said.

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