The more things change . . . We are reliably informed that the director of Saint Lucia’s only crime lab recently resigned and that the remaining staff have been introduced to an “interim director” from Barbados who will undertake “an audit” at the facility. We been informed, moreover, that prior to the meeting, attendees were required by police personnel also present to hand over their cell phones in the interests of security.
Following the meeting staff were sent home to permit the “interim director’s audit.” By professional account, the action is not without serious implications that could impact evidence at the lab, later to be presented in court. Meanwhile, the lab has effectively been shut down to accommodate the unexplained audit.
In 2013, the STAR featured the following article by Dr. Valerie Fuller. Evidently, the situation she touched on has only grown worse—and for the same reasons underscored. Following, Dr. Fuller’s article.
—Rick WaynePermit me to introduce myself and to clear the air on a vital topic. I am the former forensic DNA consultant at Saint Lucia’s forensic lab. I was hired on 2 January 2010 and successfully set up the lab’s DNA testing unit. It would not surprise me one bit to learn you who are reading this knew nothing of it before now.
The DNA section of the lab that I built is still in existence and could be accredited tomorrow. It could also be operated solely by Saint Lucian nationals. But the DNA testing unit, which is part of the lab, has been held back from accreditation.Why? The lab as a whole is not ready for accreditation because it is poorly managed. DNA labs cannot stand alone. They must be accredited as part of a larger agency—in this case, the national forensic lab, which, outside of its DNA section, is an accreditation nightmare.
On 31 March 2013 I resigned as head of the DNA unit, mainly because it could finally run without a consultant. By that time all of my trainees had met the international personnel standards in number, in experience and in education. By international standards, only one member of DNA personnel need have a Masters degree in forensic science to assume the role of technical leader that I had been filling. One of my trainees had just attained that degree.
I was proud that I was no longer needed. I was proud that I had left Saint Lucia a fully functional DNA lab. But the other reason I resigned was that earlier I had not been free to openly discuss the shortcomings of management and the office of the DPP, which was too much for me. I am a professional. As such, I could not remain silent and passive in the face of flaws. For three years I had constantly pushed for the lab-wide written policy needed for accreditation; to no avail. After I resigned I found out that for no good reason the DNA lab was shut down. Also, my newly Masters degreed trainee had been denied technical leader status by the ministry. It made me wonder: Why would lab upper management not do the right thing in the perfectly good DNA testing unit and why has the lab as a whole not yet achieved accreditation?
Yes ineptitude runs deep. But this felt bigger. Corruption? Why are the ministry and the DPP’s office afraid of the standard of documentation and transparency that accreditation requires? I had required this. The new technical leader would also require this. I had trained her and all my trainees require this. The ministry and the DPP’s office obviously feared us as much as they feared accreditation.
How is this? Well, for one, accreditation requires management and analysts to keep full records. Accreditation requires open and fair communication. The DPP fears this. Why? Because with open and fair communication, records can no longer simply “disappear.” Secrets can no longer be kept.
While I was managing the lab the analysts and I would frequently request from the police their investigation notes. We would frequently be told they did not keep their own notes for our review; they handed everything to the DPP. When we would ask the DPP for information, on several occasions we would be given nothing. Or our calls would not be returned. Or someone would forget to follow through with the requested information.
In this way, the DPP’s office can do whatever it wants with case paperwork. In Saint Lucia you can pay certain individuals and documents can be changed. Or made to disappear forever because no redundant record-keeping exists outside of the DPP or upper lab management—except in our DNA section.
Secondly: if you are extremely slow in prosecuting, then you can rely on the public forgetting about follow-up. Who is following up on these cases for prosecution? If no DNA cases are brought, then no one knows the DNA lab even exists, let alone that it is fully online. All of this means the public remained confused during this whole time and therefore could not demand justice, or even productivity, from the office of the DPP. As their consultant, my mouth was gagged. As a resigned consultant, I am finally free and ready to tell all I know.
Well, I can tell you the DNA section has existed for almost four years now. Analysts are waiting to act and to be heard. Under my supervision the DNA testing unit went fully online in May 2010. At that time the DPP told me the Amelina Henry Christmas Eve Soufriere homicide case was a rush. I immediately completed several rounds of DNA testing and can confirm this case has been solved since June 2010. So why has it never gone to court?
The DPP’s office always has an excuse. I and the other two qualified analysts at the lab at the time completed and solved many more cases with DNA. None has gone to court. The DPP never Gazetted me for testimony. She refuses to Gazette our newly qualified analysts, even though their education and experience qualify them for testimony anywhere, nationally and internationally.
If any analysts go off-island for even one week, or if one takes maternity leave, or God forbid, one takes educational leave to get the Masters degree that would allow the Saint Lucian DNA section to be self-sustaining without consultants, the DPP says this is why nothing is getting prosecuted. And the ministry allows the DPP to use this as her excuse for delays.
The lab director complains that the DNA section is not accredited, even though it is the lack of lab-wide documentation (under the responsibility of the lab director) that is holding up accreditation. These excuses are all therefore invalid. The public ignorance of these issues allows the lab’s problems to continue festering. And the ministry and DPP’s office like that. How can analysts affect change if they will be fired for talking about these issues?
The lab is run by an iron fist, a technically ignorant fist that can never meet international accreditation standards unless it is stopped and replaced by public outcry.
I hope this letter serves to educate the public of the shenanigans at the ministry and DPP’s office. So now in September 2013, I sit safely back at home in my own country, three years and seven months after my Saint Lucian DNA section went online, and there still have been no DNA cases brought. Now I read that a dear 19-year-old girl has been brutally slain [Cherece Benoit]. I read that she wanted to become a forensic analyst to help her island in the future, a future she will never see; her hands were bound and her life strangled out of her. Perhaps even more depressing is that forensic DNA experts already do exist in Saint Lucia—and want to do forensics right now.
Saint Lucian forensic DNA analysts exist that meet the highest international standards of casework but their hands are as tightly bound behind their backs and their voices are as strangled as the voice of the latest murder victim.
Will the Saint Lucian people untie the hands of their forensic experts? Will the ministry and DPP be made to account? If so, cases can be solved now. Justice can be served. The DPP’s office must be exposed for what it does not do. It is your lab, Saint Lucians, and it can work—if permitted to. Demand that it be allowed to work!