Lab scandal jeopardizes integrity of S.F. justice
Sting uncovered bogus certification

San Francisco Examiner, Friday September 16, 1994, A-7
By Jim Herron Zamora of the Examiner Staff

San Francisco's criminal justice system has come under scrutiny because a police lab technician allegedly certified evidence as illegal drugs without performing the required chemicals tests.

"If someone was convicted of a crime by evidence that was not properly analyzed, then we want to correct that wrong," Police Chief Tony Ribera Siad. "It has brought our integrity into question. ... I'm dissappointed. I feel bad that this happened."

Public Defender Jeff Brown said that more than 1,000 felony convictions could be affected. Some could be set aside, and there could be lawsuites alleging false impresonment if people can prove they were improperly convicted of drug charges on the basis of untested evidence.

"The City is in very serious trouble in terms of liability and in terms of credibility," Brown said. "There is an oblication to examine every single case that (the chemist) performed tests on. ... A whole lot of convictions may be set aside because of this."

Police and District Attorney Arlo Smith's office Thursday were reviewing an estimated 1,500 tests performed by police chemist Allison Lancaster over the past five years.

"This does affect the whole criminal justice system," said Smith. "If affects the public's confidence in the system."

Officials set up a sting last week that led to the conclusion about Lancaster. Lancaster was given a bogus sample of drug evidence that internal investigators had earlier determined to be clean, according to police. She certified it as containing an illicit substance, police said.

The sting, Ribera said, "Confirmed the original allegations that procedured were not being complied with."

It had followed a tip from another lab employee.

Lancaster, a police lab employee for five years, is the subject of a criminal probe by the General Works Detail and an administrative investigation by the police department's internal affairs unit, Ribera said.

If it is determined that she did not actually test evidence that she certified as illegal drugs, she might face felony charges of perjury and obstruction as well as lose her job.

Lancaster, who has been put on unpaid leave, could not be reached Thursday. Her union representative, Linda Jofuku, said Lancaster was "innocent until proven guilty." She said that Lancaster had not been charged with and wrongdoing.

"Our concern is that she is given her due process rights," said Jofuku, of the Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21.

It remained unclear Thursday how many tests processed by Lancaster had resulted in prosecutions, convictions or guilty pleas, Smith said. But it could be as many as 1,000, according to Smith and Brown. Ribera said it might be far less but conceded no one would know until the investiation was complete.