November 18, 2008
LAPD's Fingerprint Lab Isn't Up to the Task
Months before, one of the unit's print specialists had determined that several prints lifted from a cellphone store where a burglary had occurred belonged to Maria Maldonado, a 25-year-old hospital technician. Two others in the unit had signed off on the work. The match had given authorities the evidence they needed to arrest the woman and charge her with the crime. When the case went before a judge, however, a renowned fingerprint expert testified that the police had made a mistake.
The analysts stood by their work, but days later the file containing the suspected burglar's prints mysteriously disappeared from the unlocked drawer where it was kept. Working from copies of the prints, others in the unit and outside consultants later concluded that Maldonado had, in fact, been wrongly accused, and the charges were dropped.
The case offers a stark profile of a high-stakes operation that for years has been marred by inadequate training, antiquated facilities, poor supervision, careless handling of evidence and other shortfalls, according to internal police records and interviews.
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