The Rhode Island Attorney General’s office has announced that the state’s Department of Health forensics testing lab is under investigation for improperly processing cocaine testing, impacting more than 50 police investigations.
The AG’s office alleges the tests appear to have been conducted by “one particular scientist,” and appear limited to cocaine testing. Per the official press release dated March 17, 2023:
At this juncture, the Lab has identified 52 lab cases that are potentially impacted by this event. There are an additional 263 cases that are pending review. The Lab has represented to us that, based on the information they currently have, they do not believe drug exhibits tested by other laboratory scientists, or that drug exhibits where cocaine is not indicated were impacted.
According to a report by the Washington Examiner, the problem was related to an “accidental cross-contamination” of samples. That report says the contamination may have affected as many as 236 samples.
The Rhode Island Department of Health’s Forensic Science Laboratory holds ISO 17025 accreditation for the scope of forensic testing, and the most current accreditation is valid through 2025. The ANAB certificate is signed by the accreditation body’s VP of Forensics, Pamela Sale.
If it is proven the laboratory was at fault, it will be another black eye for the forensics laboratory accreditation program overseen by the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation, or “ILAC,” as well as for ANAB itself.
In February, Oxebridge reported that ANAB continues to accredit the Fort Worth Police Department Crime Laboratory, which has undergone three investigations in as many years, for problems related to the lab’s “quality assurance methods.”
That same month, Oxebridge reported that ANAB refused to take action to withdraw an ISO 17025 accreditation issued to a Nevada cannabis testing lab, despite the lab facing a 10-year ban by state officials for criminal fraud. In that case, ANAB VP Doug Leonard claimed to have processed a “complaint” on the issue, but provided no evidence of any actions, and the lab retained its accreditation despite the pending ban.
ANAB is not the only ILAC member body facing scrutiny in the forensics testing field. In Australia, the accreditation body NATA was found to have performed “lax oversight” of the Queensland Police forensics lab during an official probe in that country related to the murder of Shandie Blackburn. That investigation found the Queensland lab had reduced laboratory sampling rates, allowing multiple police investigations to be corrupted. NATA has refused to take action against the lab, and the Asia Pacific Accreditation Cooperation, which oversees NATA’s compliance with ISO 17011, has likewise refused to investigate NATA. The CEO of NATA, Jennifer Evans, is a long-time friend of APAC’s executive, Graeme Drake, who recently awarded Evans a Chair seat for herself at APAC. A Queensland health minister, Yvette d’Ath, recently claimed to be too busy to investigate the matter at all.
In 2018, the British accreditation body UKAS refused to take action when two forensics laboratories in that country were found to have manipulated test data for years. The laboratories Randox and Trimega faced criminal investigations, and Randox remains accredited by UKAS. Then Randox was questioned about the scandal, it appeared to “throw UKAS under the bus” by alleging it could not have done anything wrong, since UKAS had accredited it to ISO 17025. Multiple arrests of Randox employees were then made.
ILAC is supposed to ensure that bodies such as ANAB, NATA, and UKAS perform accreditation according to rules and ISO standards, but evidence shows the group does little once an accreditation body has paid its membership fees. Etty Feller, the ILAC Chair, has refused to take any actions against the bodies, and has also refused to ensure that ILAC complies with international law related to Russia sanctions. Feller agrees to appear at ILAC events, but does not take questions, and has refused to answer any questions put to her regarding the various scandals that have occurred during her tenure.
The ISO 17025 accreditation scheme is touted by governments, including those of the US and UK, as being crucial to ensure trust in test laboratory results. Official agencies and regulators within those governments, however, do nothing when it is revealed that scheme actors continue to accredit labs accused of incompetence, crimes, or fraud.
ANAB has engaged in a dramatic marketing campaign for its forensic testing accreditations but refuses to answer questions related to how its mark appears on certificates issued to labs later found to be violating ISO 17025.
UPDATE 20 March 2023: This article was edited, as the original claimed the investigation into the RI lab was for fraud. It was since learned the investigation is related to improper sample cross-contamination, and intentional fraud is not considered as a factor at this time.