Q&A with interim APD chief on broken DNA freezer

Austin Police Department Asst. Chief Manley
Austin Police Department Asst. Chief Manley

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Austin Police Department tries to figure out if a malfunctioning freezer might have compromised DNA being held at the DNA lab, KXAN’s Sally Hernandez spoke to Interim Chief of Police Brian Manley to find out why scientists didn’t notify the legal community and if they were covering anything up.

Sally Hernandez/KXAN: KXAN broke a memo that we got showing that a freezer in the lab was broken for almost a week and nobody outside the lab was notified. How big was a problem was that?

Manley: I can’t understate that issue. We know we’ve had some challenges in the DNA lab and we’ve taken aggressive steps to address that. We’re working both with our political body (the mayor and council), but also the county judge and the district attorney’s office. We all share these concerns.

We had a technology failure that occurred. Obviously, the freezer stopped working and that’s a possibility at any lab but that’s why you have alarm systems on those freezers that alert you to what happened so that you can take an immediate step to fix that and unfortunately that system failed as well from what we understand.

I know it’s been phrased that we tried to cover this issue but I would put out there that we had a scientist, an employee who thoroughly documented what happened and they made a scientific decision that they didn’t believe that it had impacted any of the evidence and there was nothing they could do at that point.

KXAN: Doesn’t that underscore how your analysts don’t understand the impact of their work? This is not the first time they’re accused of doing something they shouldn’t be doing.

Manley: I don’t phrase it such that they don’t understand the importance of their work, I think at an administrative level that the folks that were overseeing the administrative side of the operations didn’t realize the political sensitivity and the need for notification to the criminal justice system.

KXAN Back to that freezer, do you know how many cases were compromised and what you are going to do to fix it?

Manley: That’ts under review. I do not know how many cases were impacted. I do not know how many cases were in the freezer. And then scientifically, I don’t know what we are going to do or the steps we’re going to take to determine if those cases were impacted. My understanding at this point from the DNA experts we deal with is that it is not required you freeze DNA samples but it may be a best practice. We are in the early steps to unfold what, if any impact, this may have had in the cases stored in the freezer.

KXAN: But it’s in your opinion as the police chief interim that they should have notified somebody outside of the police department?

Manley: Yes, we should have notified our partners in the criminal justice system what had happened. At the moment, we wouldn’t have been able to let them know what the impact was but we should have let them know that this incident had occurred.

KXAN: Is there an inventory log of the cases?

Manley: Yes.

KXAN: So you know the cases impacted that you can reach out to the attorneys now?

Manley: My understanding at this point is that we know how many cases were inside that lab, I have not seen the list so I can’t commit 100 percent but my understanding is that we know what we had in that individual freezer when it went down back in March.