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Oregon State Police halt drug testing at Bend, Pendleton labs

The Oregonian/OregonLive,
BYLINE: Laura Gunderson | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Pendleton and Bend, OR

2015-11-20_Oregon State Police halt drug testing_01
Oregon State Police have halted drug testing at two labs in the wake of allegations that a forensic analyst stole and tampered with drug evidence. (Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian)

Oregon State Police are no longer analyzing drugs at forensic labs in Pendleton and Bend where an employee allegedly stole and tampered with drug evidence.

In a recent letter to district attorneys statewide, Major Andy Heider wrote that the suspension is voluntary and is in response to a criminal investigation into forensic analyst Nika Larsen, 35. The allegations against Larsen have required district attorneys statewide to review more than 1,000 open and closed cases on which Larsen had worked.

State police halted drug testing at the Pendleton lab on July 28, while testing at the Bend lab wasn't suspended until Sept. 3. The agency made no public announcement of the change.

Until suspensions are lifted, drug evidence will be processed at the state's labs in Portland, Springfield and Central Point. The Bend and Pendleton labs will continue to process other types of evidence.

"They put the brakes on these labs until the policies, practices and protections can be fixed," said John Hummel, the Deschutes County District Attorney, who is reviewing more than 500 cases.

"Obviously the controls were insufficient. The suspect had a relatively easy time doing what she did," he said. "State police are comfortable, for what it's worth, with these other labs testing drugs."

State police first alerted district attorneys on Sept. 11 that Larsen, who had worked in four different forensic labs since she was hired in 2007, was under investigation for stealing drugs, according to court testimony by Oregon State Police Capt. Theodore Phillips earlier this year.

After receiving a report of missing drugs, Phillips had performed an audit of evidence at the Pendleton lab, where Larsen was serving on temporary assignment. Larsen had bounced back and forth between the labs in Bend and Pendleton four times between Jan. 1, 2012, until when she was placed on leave Aug. 27, 2015.

Hummel and others have voiced concerns about how carefully state police have monitored the labs and what has been done when problems were found.

In late September, Gov. Kate Brown appointed a work group comprised of lawyers, legislators and police officials to look into the issues. A meeting scheduled for December was canceled and a new meeting date for the group has not yet been set.

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