The Atlanta Police Department has a new crime lab director who top cops hope will expedite investigations with as much skill as she has her own career.
Candace Walker took her first job as a forensic scientist in 2007. Today she is heading a major metropolitan crime lab that has been leaderless since the previous director said he was fired last June for being a paid expert for a defendant.
For the state’s busiest police force, a crime lab is critical, officials said. Otherwise, all cases have to go to the already overburdened Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which has traditionally suffered from a lengthy backlog of cases.
The GBI crime lab is exactly where Walker cut her teeth for four years. She also has done two stints in Afghanistan, working as an investigator for the Army and training local forensic scientists in that country.
“Before that I was in college,” said Walker, a Loyola University graduate.
She received a bachelor’s of science degree in biology and a master’s degree in criminal justice administration.
Maj. Stacie Gibbs said Walker was picked after interviews with many candidates — she didn’t have an estimated number.
“She is well qualified. We wouldn’t hire her if she wasn’t,” said Gibbs, who participated in the interviews. “GBI recommended her. She did two years with the military.”
On Monday, Walker gave a tour of the city crime lab at the police annex on Donald Hollowell Parkway. The department has consolidated its firing lab — which used to be at the training center in DeKalb County — with its other testing and evidence for efficiency purposes.
The APD’s lab can handle everything from fingerprint examination and illegal drug verification, to ballistic tests — either identifying bullets or shot patterns — and other marks made to put a weapon or tool at the scene of a crime.
Walker told a television reporter that the results of the tests made proper identification a “complete certainty” because at least two people verified the conclusion that, say, this bullet was fired from this gun.
“It won’t get past two people,” she said.
She later amended the “complete certainty” statement when talking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — to explain the department had controls in place to make a mistake extremely unlikely. The art of forensic science has produced headlines in recent years, especially at the FBI lab, once considered the gold standard, for wrong or fraudulent conclusions in forensic reports and testimony.
Former Atlanta crime lab director Donald Mikko said he was fired last June because he was testifying as an expert witness in a Florida case for the defense to outline what he contended were mistakes and procedural violations made by a local police department. He contends Chief George Turner and District Attorney Paul Howard conspired to obstruct justice with the punitive action.
Mikko alleges in a lawsuit filed in February that he was fired after a district attorney in Florida complained to Howard that APD’s top crime scientist was testifying for a criminal defendant as an expert witness. Mikko exposed actions by police and prosecutors that showed “mishandling of evidence” and “misfeasance or malfeasance,” the lawsuit said.
Howard, Turner and city of Atlanta lawyers have refused to comment on the case.
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