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Nassau crime lab explains mistake to state

A file photo of the Nassau County police

A file photo of the Nassau County police crime lab in Mineola. Credit: NCPD

The chief toxicologist of the Nassau crime lab Wednesday explained to members of the state Commission on Forensic Science how the facility dealt with a mistake an analyst made while processing blood-alcohol evidence in September.

After hearing about the incident, Brian Gestring, a commissioner and director of the state Office of Forensic Services, expressed concern for the analyst, saying, "I don't want someone's career being ruined."

Lab official Joseph Avella said the analyst has been removed from doing the kind of casework she previously did, has different responsibilities now and still has a job.

Avella said the lab has an established protocol for processing blood samples and "had she followed the procedure correctly, this would not have happened."

The lab has beefed up its blood-alcohol procedure since the incident to prevent a similar error, Avella said.

Disclosure of forensic lab mistakes is part of the regular agenda at commission meetings.

At Wednesday's meeting in Manhattan, Suffolk lab official Donald Doller disclosed that in one case, a paint chip that was considered trace evidence had been lost after a work crew spent time in the forensic facility and likely disturbed it.

And Doller also disclosed a review of another mistake going back several years. In that instance, which involved DNA, two samples were mistakenly switched.

Corrective actions were taken in both cases, Doller said.

The September mistake in Nassau was discovered by an assistant district attorney. When lab officials learned about the error, they reported it to the state within 24 hours. That was in stark contrast to Nassau's former police lab, which often kept such mistakes quiet.

Nassau's new forensic lab, which falls under the county medical examiner's office, replaced the former police crime lab, which was closed by officials in 2011 after it was criticized for botched testing of criminal evidence.

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