Scientists sue NY state police for forcing them to ‘customize’ DNA test results

File Photo © Jean-Paul Pelissier
Three scientists have filed a lawsuit against a New York State Police crime lab where they were employees, saying the administration retaliated against them after they discovered that staff were using outdated DNA evidence tests to get more convictions.

Shannon Morris, Melissa Lee and Kevin Rafferty are seeking unspecified damages in federal court, AP reports. They filed a complaint last week in which they stated that they were retaliated against after they had objected to the lab’s current DNA test and called for the adoption of a more modern and accurate procedure. The agency allegedly refused to acknowledge any flaws in the current system and urged them to keep their mouths shut, they said. 

The three claim that the police department was not eager to employ the new method, known as TrueAllele system, which would guarantee better accuracy. Scientists say the police were satisfied with the old testing procedure as it reportedly secured more convictions.

“…There are people that are very pro-prosecution. They were putting pressure on scientists to reach conclusions that were not scientifically valid. That’s what my clients were objecting to,” the scientists’ lawyer told the Associated Press on Friday.

The scientists pointed out that the agency was using the so-called Combined Probability of Inclusion test that can be inaccurate when it comes to analyzing the genes of relatives, as it includes an element of subjectivity.

Out of 37 staff members, the plaintiffs were the only ones not afraid to “speak out” on the matter. They allege that the department then accused them of ethical violations and used these complaints as a pretext to silence them. Meanwhile, an unspecified “internal investigation” was also reportedly launched.

Police, however, have their own side to the story. State Police spokeswoman said that the new program had been used previously, but was cancelled just a year before the scientists’ five-year contract was due to end.

“The program was not progressing because of the internal investigation. The State Police is committed to the technology and is seeking a new request for proposals to move forward,” Kristin Lowman State Police spokeswoman said.

She refused to comment on the pending litigation.

We were audited by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation on all aspects of our forensic biology (DNA) operation and are in full compliance with all of our accrediting and oversight body requirements,” Lowman argued.

The scientists had been working for the police department for 20 years. Even though Lee and Rafferty are said to be still working in the lab, they were subjected to disciplinary proceedings and reassigned to different positions. The third scientist, Morris, was sacked last year.