The Oregon State Police Forensic Services Division is awaiting the results of a work group established by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to evaluate policies and procedures used in crime labs, the department stated in an apology issued Tuesday in the wake of the Nika Larsen case.
Larsen, a former OSP forensic scientist at crime labs in Bend and Pendleton, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to using her position to steal controlled substances from the crime labs for personal use. Her conviction, after investigations by OSP and the Oregon Department of Justice, resulted in the dismissal of a number of drug crime cases throughout the state. Larsen directly worked on approximately 1,500 cases.
Larsen is facing a recommended three-year prison sentence and is scheduled to be sentenced in December.
“We profoundly regret our scientist’s behavior and any adverse impact it has had on our professional partners or the administration of justice,” OSP stated in the release. “We are redoubling our commitment to delivering the consistently professional service that built our hard-earned reputation for excellence.”
The work group was formed by Brown in September 2015 to review the policies and procedures of OSP crime labs in response to the investigation of Larsen. It is headed by Oregon Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, and Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland. The group has met several times to receive information from OSP about its forensic operations and quality-assurance programs.
In its presentations, OSP listed several things it plans to do to improve its operations, including installing cameras, implementing security card access to evidence lockers that will track who accesses evidence and when, and a random retest of evidence leaving the lab to ensure analysis was done correctly.
The Oregon Innocence Project, an organization that aims to prevent wrongful convictions, released a proposal Tuesday for an independent review of the OSP crime labs.
Under the Innocence Project’s proposal, an outside group of investigators would independently investigate the labs and would then cooperate with the governor’s work group to identify and resolve cases of injustice resulting from failures at the labs. Both groups then would work on making recommendations for improvements at the crime labs and OSP as a whole moving forward.
“The approach outlined above, if implemented, will substantially increase the integrity of Oregon’s forensic system by ensuring proper administration of justice in our state,” the proposal states.
As of now, the governor’s work group has only convened to take in information and has yet to discuss recommendations or the possibility of bringing in outside investigators, according to Bryan Hockaday, a spokesman for Brown.
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