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More abnormalities at CSPD lab



It's been a fairly quiet four months since the local police and district attorney tried to close the book on an embarrassing screw-up in the Metro Crime Lab. But if you'd figured the lab had simply returned to business as usual, you'd be sorely mistaken.

The chemist blamed for all 206 inaccurate drunk-driving blood tests is back on the payroll. A senior forensic chemist in the lab is no longer with the Police Department, but is involved in an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint. And for a couple months, the state has done all blood-alcohol testing for the city — 447 tests so far, at a cost of $11,175, the state reports.

'Confidential issue'

Marcie Jardell was dismissed in March after an internal investigation discovered that test results inflated some drivers' blood alcohol content. Jardell's attorney, Jeanne Wilson, says her client was unfairly blamed for the botched tests and has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, which often is the first step toward a lawsuit. In the meantime, Jardell is on paid administrative leave.

"We have an employee who did nothing wrong. She followed policy, followed protocol," Wilson says. "We have a situation of a young lady whose future right now is very much in limbo."

During an April 19 press conference, police spokesman Sgt. Steve Noblitt told media that an internal investigation found 167 flawed tests in 2009 and 39 more in 2007, all of them tied to Jardell. He added that she no longer was working at the lab.

District Attorney Dan May said that of the 206 bad tests, only nine had pushed defendants over a legal threshold: .05 for driving impaired, .08 for driving under the influence or .20 for driving so drunk that jail time is required. In those cases, May said, charges were generally dismissed and court costs refunded.

In an interview with the Independent a short time later, Jardell's co-worker Robert Striebel, a senior forensic chemist in the lab, theorized that Jardell — who was rated as "effective" or "excellent" with no hint of problems on eight years of job evaluations — "became complacent" in running the tests.

Records obtained by the Indy show Jardell wasn't paid from March 27 through April, and that the city paid out her remaining vacation time in the pay period ending April 3. But payment of her $4,676 monthly salary resumed with the pay period ending May 15.

The Police Department now says in a written response to the Indy's written questions that Jardell was reinstated and paid retroactively to March 29. The city also reinstated her vacation leave balance. But spokesman Noblitt will not say why she's back.

"This is a confidential personnel issue," he writes in the city's response, which he says originated in the City Attorney's Office.

Wilson says she can't discuss specifics of the case because of the pending EEOC complaint. Its resolution, she notes, could take "many, many months." The commission could find a violation and impose a remedy, or find that no violation occurred.

Asked if Jardell could file a lawsuit, Wilson says, "Her legal team is moving forward on this case."

And there's more

After more than 11 years, Striebel's own pay history concluded with the pay period ending June 12, when he was paid for 32 hours and his remaining vacation time. Asked in writing whether Striebel resigned or was fired, and why he left the city, Noblitt again would only write that each matter was "a confidential personnel issue."

In response to an earlier Open Records request from the Indy, the Police Department did acknowledge that Striebel is involved in an Internal Affairs investigation. But the city refuses to release it, saying the investigation is ongoing and citing a portion of the law that bars release of "any records of sexual harassment complaints and investigations, whether or not such records are maintained as part of a personnel file." Striebel couldn't be reached for comment.

The city's anti-discrimination policy defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or any other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on a person's gender" when submission is made a condition of employment; submission or rejection of the advances is used in employment decisions affecting the individual; or such conduct interferes with job performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Employees can be fired for violating the policy.

Perhaps as curious as the lab's personnel issues is its abdication of blood-alcohol testing to the state. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Mark Salley says in an e-mail that the state agreed in May to begin doing blood-alcohol analysis for the city and received the first sample in June. The state charges $25 per sample, the same as other law enforcement agencies.

Salley says he doesn't know why the state took on testing for the city's crime lab, which also serves the county and Fourth Judicial District. But Noblitt says in an e-mail that the lab is outsourcing blood-alcohol analyses to the state due to insufficient personnel to perform the tests in-house. The cost, he says, is offset through savings on salary and consumables used to perform the tests.

The lab has continued doing drug identification, arson and explosive material analysis, firearms examination, ballistics and DNA testing.

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