Dallas County Crime Lab Whistleblower Speaks Out

Chris Nulf / Elizabeth Lavin for D Magazine

In this month’s D Magazine, I talked to Dr. Chris Nulf, a former Dallas County Crime Lab scientist who says the lab is mismanaged and uses expired chemicals to processes forensic kits. It’s not a strictly feminist piece, but in manner of the DA’s conviction integrity unit, anything that goes wrong at the lab could seriously impact rape convictions:

Nulf says the lab practices poor quality control, training is sloppy, and management retaliates against employees who raise concerns. If Nulf is right and there are serious problems with the crime lab, every case that relies on physical evidence could be called into question. Imagine if every convicted rapist going back five years suddenly had a good reason to appeal his case. Similarly, sloppy lab work could send innocent people to jail.

“People’s liberties are at stake here,” Nulf says.

Read the rest here.

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
This entry was posted in crime, Dallas, incarceration, legal issues, navelgazing, news, rape culture, sexual assault, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Dallas County Crime Lab Whistleblower Speaks Out

  1. EB says:

    This doesn’t seem to be a particularly well researched story. Were you able to find anyone who believes this guy is credible? Or is the consensus that he is just a disgruntled former employee?

    • EB – Part of the problem with the way the Forensic Science Commission is set up is that it is in some ways designed to ensure that the opportunity to determine the credibility of folks like Nulf doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen in a timely manner. Something that didn’t make it into this edit of the story is that contractors with SWIFS (such as Peerwani, the Tarrant County ME) are on the FSC board that determines which complaints are heard and which are dismissed, for example. And then this issue with the commission refusing to take up the complaint based on rules they created after the complaint was submitted. I suppose my intention here is more to examine the question of whether the FSC is capable of taking or intends to take complaints seriously, no matter who they’re coming from. Nulf may be perceived as a “disgruntled former employee,” and in some ways he certainly is, but he’s no crackpot.

      *ETA, again because this wasn’t in the final version of the story: You’ll also find that a number of problems Nulf cites have caused serious problems at other crime labs. For example: lack of a complete employee DNA database caused a shitstorm at the Baltimore crime lab.

  2. EB says:

    Andrea – Thanks for the additional information. But I’m not sure that it answers my basic question. From what you say, it seems like you are vouching for the reliability of what he is saying. But beyond you vouching for him, is there anything else that says he is believable? Did you talk to folks at any of the rape victim services in Dallas? Or any defense attorneys?

    • No, I didn’t interview defense attorneys at this time for this particular article–I did in the past when first researching the story ages ago (two years?), and the consensus was that if what Nulf says is true, then yes, SWIFS is potentially very problematic. That’s why I pursued the story initially. I agree, some quotage there would have been useful. I’m not a scientist obviously, so I can only vouch for the accuracy of what he told me in terms of use of expired chemicals, backdated documents about contamination, etc. Whether those things definitely present legal problems isn’t for me to say. I’m raising the question of whether the system set in place to determine that is adequate to this purpose. (also, I’m not sure what you mean by rape victims services–crisis centers? The DA?–I did speak to the DA’s office and they referred me to ASCLD, who referred me to their ruling based on some phone calls with SWIFS that the lab was fine.) I agree there’s a lot more reporting that can be done here in a number of directions and many places to go with the piece. But I write for the space I have.

      • ED says:

        That’s interesting. So the complaints have actually been investigated by an accrediting organization, and there was a ruling in favor of the lab. I didn’t get that from the article. That seems worth bringing out. The article makes it sound like the complaints were totally ignored, when in fact they weren’t. And then there is an accrediting group that doesn’t agree with the complaints. That also wasn’t clear in the article.

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