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W.Va. drug lab bolsters staff

October 02, 2000|By BOB PARTLOW

W.Va. drug lab bolsters staff



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A decision to hire three people at the West Virginia State Police Drug Lab Monday, in the wake of allegations over the handling of drug evidence, is a "short-range" solution to a larger problem, Berkeley County's prosecutor said.

West Virginia State Police hired a uniformed member and two civilian employees Monday for the drug lab, state police said.

The two civilians are recent college graduates and the uniformed member is Technical Sgt. D.R. Gaskins, a forensic analyst from another section of the state's forensic laboratory. Gaskins is a former drug section chief.

Technicians from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency have been operating the drug lab for the past week as an investigation continues into the handling of evidence. The lab was closed Sept. 7 after inconsistencies were reported to State Police Superintendent Gary Edgell.

Five employees, including three troopers, were suspended with pay a week later. Four remain on leave. One civilian, Mills Dillard, resigned Sept. 24 to pursue another job.

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Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said the additional staff may help, but only temporarily.

"They were operating on many, many more personnel than they are now," she said. "Short-range, this may help a little. Long-range, this is not going to assist anybody."

The lab is taking "indicted cases first," she said. But it still isn't taking new cases. That will force the county to look to independent labs - which may cost $1,000-$5,000 a case - or to other states. The West Virginia lab provides free services to county prosecutors.

She expects the issue to come before the state Legislature, because the lab needs more people, she said.

"You either have to fund it or disband it," she said.

Last week, lab employee Todd O. McDaniel was named in a federal information that alleged failure to perform required drug tests and submitting false reports to law enforcement agencies. An information usually means the person named has agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Criminal defense attorney Kevin Mills of Martinsburg said he will re-file about 50 of his former drug cases with courts for review because of the drug lab problems.

He said he doesn't know if the additional staff people will help, but said it won't do anything to help the cases from the past.

"The difficult problem in assessing what the remedy should be is not knowing the full extent of the problem," Mills said. "It may mean tests done in the future are more reliable but it does not do anything to resolve cases where drugs have already been tested."

He wants the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to be allowed to conduct an independent investigation of the lab. One reason he is re-filing old cases is to give the association the legal standing to get its own investigators into the lab, he said.

State police said Monday they are currently conducting a nationwide search for "qualified, fully credentialed personnel."

To date, the state police said, re-testing has confirmed the results of drug tests previously performed by the drug section.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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