New York Times, bloggers supplement local crime lab coverage

The New York Times has weighed in with coverage of Michael Bromwich's damning report on the HPD crime lab, and Ralph Blumenthal accurately conveys the report's criticism of management within the crime lab, as well as HPD and city officials, including Lee P. Brown and especially Clarence Bradford (not unlike your humble bloggers here).

Blumenthal apparently was unable to track down Bradford for comment:

Clarence Bradford
A drug chemist who joined the laboratory in 1979, James R. Bolding, was pushed up the ladder under former Police Chief Lee P. Brown, who later became mayor, and his police successor, former chief Clarence O. Bradford, to fill vacancies in serology, despite inadequate training, the report said. It quoted Mr. Bolding as telling investigators he "took books home and did the best he could." Mr. Bolding did not respond to a phone message left with his son at home.

And Chief Bradford, it went on, refused to spend a City Council grant to hire more workers because once the money ran out, the department would have to pay them. His phone number has been disconnected.

It seems strange that the Brown/Bradford consulting firm would not have functioning telephones. Perhaps the status of Brown Group International as a Houston minority business enterprise will be enough to gain it business, if past experience is any guide.

The Chronicle's main coverage of the report, in contrast, does not mention Lee Brown. It mentions Bradford's role in reinstating an analyst who was suspected of fabricating test results, but does not mention Bradford's decision not to use grant money to hire needed staff in the crime lab in order to avoid a future commitment by HPD to cover their salaries, or other parts of the report that deal with Bradford's decisionmaking. The authors of the Chronicle coverage were also responsible for what was effectively a hit piece on Chuck Rosenthal that appeared in morning print editions the day Bromwich's report was released.

Chronicle metro/state editorialist and gossip columnist Rick Casey wrote on Bromwich's findings yesterday. While Casey at least acknowledges the decision not to use grant money to hire needed staff, he refers to the decisionmaker as "the police chief." That would be Clarence Bradford, although Chronicle readers who didn't read the New York Times, blogs, or the report itself probably still don't know that the report cites Bradford specifically on the matter. Indeed, Casey mostly avoids naming any names, save one:

Chronicle metro/state editorialist and gossip columnist Rick Casey
Michael Bromwich, the independent investigator hired by the city to investigate the lab after District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal refused to allow a special prosecutor to do so, yesterday issued the surprisingly readable 83-page report. (You can find a link to it at

For good measure, there's also this:

It could be a serialized TV drama — not L.A. Law but Houston Lab.

It couldn't miss being a hit, combining the intensity of a cop show, the idealism of science and the unfolding morality play of how the District Attorney's Office handles thorny issues.

We have previously commented on Rosenthal's position on the crime lab, but it's worth noting again in light of Casey's editorializing:

I followed up with Rosenthal, who explained that he actually had called for a Blue Ribbon Review panel to review the crime lab (which Judge Robert Eckels supported but then-Mayor Lee Brown opposed), and that he later wrote to then-police chief Joe Brashears urging a review of the entire crime lab. He admits that he has refused to recuse himself "unless there was evidence that any of my staff was involved in wrongdoing" and contends he's just doing the job he was elected to do. He has also opposed a "Cleveland plan" style review, contending that it is not appropriate to Houston's circumstance. Those last two points are certainly fair game for honest debate, but to characterize Rosenthal's position as outright opposition to an independent review is not honest.

Since Casey's editorial column and the Chronicle's straight news coverage of the Bromwich findings both misrepresent and underreport (respectively) the efforts of the Harris County District Attorney's office to deal with the crime lab fiasco, perhaps it is useful to turn to the Bromwich report itself for directly related information:

In early 2003, the District Attorney’s Office and HPD began a process with the goal of re-testing all cases resulted in a conviction -- whether at trial or through a guilty plea -- in which DNA evidence analyzed by the Crime Lab may have played a role. The central purpose of the re-testing program has been to identify any cases in which the results of DNA analysis performed by the Crime Lab cannot be confirmed.


Ultimately, the District Attorney’s Office identified 407 cases to be re-tested. Four of these 407 cases identified for re-testing have subsequently been withdrawn from the re-test list because the District Attorney’s Office determined that they did not belong on the list, leaving 403 cases to be analyzed.

HPD has been responsible for sending the DNA evidence related to the 403 post-conviction re-test cases to one of the following three outside laboratories for re-testing: Identigene in Houston, Reliagene in New Orleans, and Orchid-Cellmark in Dallas. HPD reports that, as of June 13, 2005, re-testing has been completed on 333 of the 403 cases.

For obvious reasons, the optimal evidence for re-testing purposes is raw evidence, such as stains on clothing or bedding, that have not been processed by the Crime Lab. In cases where such raw evidence does not exist, the next best alternative is to test DNA that already has been extracted or already has undergone some form of processing. The bulk of the cases reviewed -- 248 -- have confirmed with raw evidence the original Crime Lab findings. Seventy-five cases have confirmed the Crime Lab’s findings with DNA extracted or processed evidence. In one case, there apparently was no remaining sample to be re-tested and only the Crime Lab’s case file was available for review. The results in eight cases have been confirmed by outside laboratories, but with significant differences in the statistics reported by the outside laboratories from those originally reported by the Crime Lab. In one case, involving Josiah Sutton, the Crime Lab’s findings were reversed by the outside laboratory.

Finally, the District Attorney’s Office has retained its own outside laboratory, Bode Technology Group of Springfield, Virginia, to review the analyses performed by the three laboratories originally involved with the post-conviction re-testing project. The Assistant District Attorney coordinating the re-testing for the prosecutor’s office told us that the purpose of Bode’s involvement is to serve as a second check on the cases and to assist the District Attorney’s Office in reviewing the reports generated by the outside laboratories involved in the re-testing program. (Pages 51-53)

People who rely only on the print editions of the Chronicle for their local news might have a very different impression of the efforts of Rosenthal and his staff to deal with the fallout of the HPD crime lab fiasco. They got to read a hit piece on Rosenthal that appeared in morning print editions the same day the Bromwich report critical of the Houston political leaders and HPD (but not Rosenthal) was released. The next day, they got to read news coverage of the Bromwich report by the same authors, who underreported the efforts of the District Attorney's office to retest cases and neglected to report some criticism of Chief Bradford in the report. And they got to read a Rick Casey editorial column on the metro/state news pages that was not entirely forthcoming in attacking Rosenthal by name, while declining to name any HPD or city officials criticized in the report.

Readers certainly can't be blamed for wondering if an anti-Rosenthal or pro-Brown/Bradford editorial bias is creeping onto the metro/state news pages, even though we've been assured that the editors of the newspaper fret over maintaining "division between the opinion pages and the news pages."

Here are additional thoughts from area bloggers:

Banjo Jones:

Lee Brown
Yee-haw, Saniflush!


Still, Lee P. Brown got a building named after him -- the Lee P. Brown METRO Administration Building at 1900 Main Street. Yeah, METRO.

To our knowledge, there are no plans to name any public buildings after Clarence "No Phone" Bradford.

The hefty pension that Lee Brown helped him secure is enough of a monument.

Charles Kuffner:

What I am saying is that [Brown and Bradford] didn't inherit a topnotch unit to begin with, and that if there's anything to be gained by pointing a finger at people who are no longer in a position of responsibility, then we ought not to be shy about pointing it at everyone who deserves it.

Their absence of leadership deserves plenty of criticism, but all bloggers should feel free to point away to other examples. Send this post your trackbacks.

Sedosi Alhambra:

Mayor Brown's legacy continues to grow sour as more and more details about the HPD crime lab come to the front in the Bromwich report....

See also his thoughts on the Casey column.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 07/02/05 08:47 PM | Print |

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