Friday, April 20, 2001

Blood-alcohol test results being called into question

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Potentially faulty blood-alcohol testing at the city's police lab may have compromised hundreds of tests used in criminal cases, including those to secure drunken-driving convictions, officials said.

Fifty-four agencies, including federal offices, contract with the Columbus Division of Police to have lab work including blood-alcohol and DNA tests done.

Deputy Police Chief John Rockwell said Wednesday that an audit of tests done between October 1999 and November 2000 by the crime lab's leading analyzer, Mark Shaw, was under way but would not say specifically what the problem was.

Police spokeswoman Sherry Jones said crime-lab manager Jami St. Clair began reviewing Shaw's tests a few weeks ago when she discovered that Shaw failed to renew his Ohio Department of Health permit.

Criminologists must file paperwork with the state Health Department each year to be certified, Jones said.

``When that happened, she did a cursory review of his work and that's when she discovered some of her concerns,'' Jones said Thursday.

Jones said she did not know what concerned St. Clair. She said police would not be releasing further details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Shaw, 34, did most of the lab's blood-alcohol tests and was in charge of calibrating the division's machine. He was removed from his job as a criminologist in November and placed on clerical duties, which do not require certification, Jones said.

Efforts to reach Shaw for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Attorney Joe Landusky said faulty tests could affect cases involving people with a blood-alcohol percentage at or near 0.10, the level at which people are considered to be driving drunk in Ohio.

``This could be a major deal with far-reaching impact, depending on what exactly this criminologist did that was improper,'' said Landusky, who specializes in drunken-driving cases.

``I'm expecting a big ripple effect to our favor. People might be able to request new trials or even get their convictions reversed.''

Jones said most drunken-driving cases will not be affected because defendants usually enter into plea agreements.

A defendant's attorney will be contacted if a test Shaw performed is called into question, Jones said.

``It doesn't mean that every single one of these is wrong,'' she said. ``We just want to make sure that there is no question of integrity in the tests that he handled.

``Our biggest concern is that we want to make sure people have trust and confidence in this system. There may be nothing wrong with these tests.''

Rockwell said any perceived errors did not seem intentional.

``We can only assume at this point it was negligence,'' the deputy chief said.