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Lab woes linked to theft case

The Detroit News (Michigan)
BYLINE: Paul Egan / The Detroit News

Detroit, MI

Detroit - Problems that forced the shutdown of the Detroit Police crime lab could undermine the federal government's prosecution of an officer charged with stealing cocaine from the police evidence room and replacing it with corn starch.

Lawyers for Vincent L. Crockett want to introduce evidence about problems with the police gun lab that last year led Chief James Barren to close the entire forensic lab, including the chemistry unit that analyzes suspected drugs such as cocaine.

U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson initially ruled such evidence would not be allowed at Crockett's April 7 embezzlement trial. He said links between documented problems in the firearms unit of the crime lab and perceived problems in the chemistry unit are "tenuous," and such evidence would likely confuse jurors.

But Lawson is to reconsider his ruling at a hearing today after Crockett's lawyers filed a Michigan State Police report that said problems with the gun lab were "highly likely" to point to other problems in the lab. Errors in the gun lab threaten more than 100 Wayne County convictions. Now, the problems threaten the cocaine theft case in U.S. District Court.

Farmington Hills appellate attorney Gerald M. Lorence said implications of the crime lab fiasco could extend to testing of bodily fluids, fingerprints and other evidence. Gun cases are "the tip of the iceberg," he said.

Crockett's defense will raise questions about whether another police officer could be responsible for the alleged theft in 2007 of about six kilograms of cocaine worth more than $2 million, attorney Andrew Densemo said in a court filing. Crockett, 40, "wishes to shed light on the lack of appropriate policies, record keeping, or evidence storage methods," the court filing said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta said in a court filing late Monday there is "no basis" for linking problems in the gun unit with problems in the chemistry unit.

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