Lab official: I told boss about problems

Former lab director Det. Lt. James Granelle awaits

Former lab director Det. Lt. James Granelle awaits his appearance in court in a DWI vehicular assault case. (Feb. 17, 2011) (Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp)

The former director of the troubled Nassau police crime laboratory testified Thursday that he told his commanding officer about significant problems at the lab as early as 2006.

Det. Lt. James Granelle, in his first public words about events at the crime lab, testified in Nassau County Court that as problems at the lab occurred, he told each immediate supervisor at the time. Some of the difficulties caused a national accrediting agency to put the lab on probation in 2006.

"Being put on probation was a significant event?" asked Garden City defense lawyer Brian Griffin, who subpoenaed Granelle in challenging the conviction of client Erin Marino, 30, on vehicular assault charges. Griffin says the lab results of her blood-alcohol test were not reliable.

Yes, Granelle said.

"Up the chain of command it went?" Griffin asked.

"I told my immediate supervisor, yes," Granelle said.

Granelle, the lab's director since January 2003, said his immediate supervisor held the rank of inspector. Griffin did not ask him to name any.

Nassau police Thursday said they could not provide the names of Granelle's supervisors since 2006.

Griffin also asked Granelle if the police commissioner was aware of the problems at the lab. Granelle replied that he did not know.

The hearing before Nassau County Judge George Peck was the first seeking to set aside a guilty verdict based on troubles at the lab uncovered in recent months.

In December, a national lab accrediting agency told the Nassau County Police Department that the crime lab was on probation, becoming the only one of nearly 400 labs in the country. It is one of two labs in the country that have been put on probation twice.

Granelle Thursday detailed some of the 26 violations cited in the most recent probation report, including failure to properly mark evidence, failure to properly store evidence, unqualified staff and failure to secure the lab itself. Granelle conceded he could have done some things better, and in other cases, he said he did not think the lapses were significant.

At a hearing before the county legislature soon after the lab's latest probation was announced, Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said he had no knowledge of problems at the crime lab before last Dec. 6. Mulvey said major turnover in top police department positions in recent years meant that he doesn't know who was aware of the lab's 2006 probation and what was done about it. He said communications and reports from the accrediting agencies that oversee the lab went straight to Granelle. He and District Attorney Kathleen Rice did not receive copies, he said.

Griffin, in his opening argument, said if "significant, widespread and long-standing" problems at the lab had been revealed before Marino, of Hicksville, was convicted in August, the verdict would have been different. Griffin made headlines in October 2008 when he successfully sued the county to have its online drunken-driving "Wall of Shame" removed from the Internet on the grounds that it unfairly punished people who had not been convicted.

At Thursday's hearing, prosecutor Maureen McCormick said while the lab has had significant troubles, there is no evidence that those problems affected blood-alcohol testing. The instrument used to test alcohol content in blood was not calibrated as often as it should have been, she said, but later tests showed it was working properly.

"The issues are whether Ms. Marino received a fair trial, and a fair and accurate blood test," McCormick said.The hearing is set to continue todayFriday, when current lab director Pasquale Buffolino takes the stand.

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