Nine months worth of work by a veteran Baltimore Police crime lab firearm’s examiner has been compromised and cannot be used for analysis, the department confirmed this week.
Lindsey Eldridge, the police department’s chief spokeswoman, said all the cases the examiner worked on between late July 2020 and April 15 will “not be used for biological analysis.”
Eldridge said an error was discovered in the examiner’s work in April, related to the swabbing of evidence on firearms. All swabbing was stopped to conduct an audit of the examiner’s work and determine whether it was an isolated incident, isolated to the one examiner, or systemic.
“It was determined through an extensive investigation that it was limited to the single examiner and that the swabs conducted could be compromised,” Eldridge said.
She did not elaborate on how the swabs may have been compromised.
Eldridge said the department still has the firearms that were tested and believes they can be re-swabbed for analysis “if necessary.”
But experts say it could be difficult to re-swab evidence — firearms are swabbed for DNA, then handled by the examiner when they are test-fired. That would make it difficult to conduct another round of swabbing.
The police department said the employee is on leave.
In an email sent to all members of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office and viewed by The Sun, the employee was identified as Victor Meinhardt, a 30-year veteran of the crime laboratory. The e-mail asked prosecutors to check to see if they had cases on which Meinhardt had performed forensic work.
Meinhardt, citing department policy, said he could not comment when reached Friday.
Zy Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said officials there “recently became aware of BPD’s findings and are currently in the process of evaluating whether it has any material impact on our cases.”
The Maryland Public Defender’s Office said prosecutors had not informed them of the issue — and should have.
“Without question, problems with a firearm examiner’s work must be provided to defense counsel in cases involving that examiner, but we do not know of any recent disclosures,” said Deborah Katz Levi, director of the office’s special litigation section. “The failure of the State’s Attorney’s Office to disclose problems, as required, exacerbates the risks of lengthy, unjust incarceration and denies a fair trial.”
The Police Department initially downplayed the audit of the firearms examiner’s work, telling the Sun that the problem was discovered during a routine audit and that it was an “isolated occurrence.”
“Out of an abundance of caution, all work conducted by the analyst was reviewed and flagged to BPD leadership,” Eldridge said. “These audits are part of our normal scope of business and are designed to catch errors if and when they occur.”
But, when pressed by The Sun, Eldridge confirmed problems with the analyst’s work.
The disclosure comes at the same time the supervisor of the BPD crime lab’s fingerprint section is speaking out about what he believes is a mass failure to process fingerprint evidence in non-violent crimes. The Sun learned of the firearms swabbing problems independent of its reporting on the fingerprint issues.
Ken Phillips, who has worked in forensics for decades and was recruited to work in Baltimore in 2017 said the lab’s resources are so thin that they are in constant triage, and only analyze samples in violent crime cases, even though crime lab technicians are sent out to collect evidence at property crime cases.
Though police officials acknowledge having to prioritize the lab’s work, Phillips said they don’t recognize the untested cases in their reported backlog.