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Fired Director of New York’s Criminal Forensic Science Division Alleges ‘Catastrophic’ DNA Errors

by Christopher Zoukis

The former director of forensic science at the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services (“DCJS”) said the Office of Forensic Science (“OFS”) made three “catastrophic” DNA identification errors and falsified a certification document in a fourth case.

The claims were made by Brian Gestring, a member of the state’s Commission on Forensic Science who was recently fired from his position as head of OFS after being accused of sexual harassment. He said the errors exposed a “huge problem” with the forensic science work being done for the DCJS.

“It is clear that all of the components of the Rube Goldberg machine that is the New York State DNA databank must have significant oversight and must be transparent to avoid catastrophe,” Gestring said. “Four catastrophic failures in one year,” he continued. “Would you fly that airline?”

The Department of Criminal Justice Services strongly disputed Gestring’s claim. “This missive by a disgruntled former employee misrepresents the facts,” said spokeswoman Janine Kava. “The Division is unaware of any instances in which an incorrect DNA identification has resulted in a wrongful arrest or prosecution. Mr. Gestring also fails to mention that DCJS has internal processes in place to identify errors and address them. It is telling that this individual waited months until after he was fired for inappropriate behavior to raise this non-issue and extol his own virtue.”

Gestring did not allege that the DNA errors led to any false arrests or convictions, nor did he specify the cases impacted by the three alleged DNA identification errors. He did say, however, that the allegedly falsified certification involved the investigation of John Bittrolf, who was recently imprisoned for the murder of two prostitutes.

Julie Fry, a lawyer in the Legal Aid Society’s DNA Unit, called for an immediate investigation. “He raises some troubling and frightening issues and we want an investigation by the governor’s office and the inspector general’s office,” Fry said. 

Sources: nydailynews.com, forensicmag.com

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