Another high-level manager in the administration of Maggie Brooks bites the dust. Janet Anderson-Seaquist was fired today after a scathing report by the State Inspector General that cited “significant failures” from an “irresponsible” management. That kind of language implies deeply systemic problems.
There are reasons to be skeptical of Anderson-Seaquist’s termination. More on that later. First, let’s look at the IG report, which examined only two issues:
1. A mistake by a forensic biologist in the test of a sperm sample. The lab identified the error and gave the biologist additional training. The lab went back and retested one of the three cases that were similar. This was in accordance with the lab’s policies, but the IG felt the lab should have retested all three.
When verbally questioned about the incident by the state, Anderson-Seaquist said the lab “rechecked” all three cases. The IG found her answer incorrect and misleading. She responded that she didn’t think “recheck” meant retest the samples. Keep in mind, the lab had already documented this incident to the state with the information that only one of the three other samples was retested.
2. The return of backlogged evidence to police agencies. The evidence was so old and untested, Anderson-Seaquist told police and prosecutors she wanted to get rid of it in advance to the move to the new crime lab. No one apparently objected. She later sent back the evidence with letters saying the “statute of limitations had expired” on the cases and analysis was available upon request.
The problem was the statute hadn’t expired in 41 of the cases. Some police agencies destroyed the evidence.
First Assistant District Attorney Kelly Wolford emailed Anderson-Seaquist:
Your failure to test the evidence submitted to your laboratory long ago by the arresting agency may result in an inability to arrest and convict violent criminals. Obviously this could result in these offenders continuing to roam the streets, free to prey on additional victims. I am sure you share my concern that this not be allowed to happen by the failure to conduct DNA testing.
To demand testing of 41 old cases seems curious, in light of the fact none of the police investigators seemed to care all those years. Furthermore, the crime lab never directed anyone to destroy evidence, as some police agencies did.
The backlog issue is a big one in this report. Before the crime lab’s move to new digs, it had a backlog of 600 cases that needed DNA testing. The DA’s office has worked under this reality for many years. The new crime lab was supposed to cut down on the backlog, but no one ever asked if additional staff would be employed to do the work.
Anderson-Seaquist tried to cut the backlog by weeding out old evidence. Police and prosecutors didn’t offer any assistance when she told them of her plan.
Previous administrations have not been held accountable for evidence backlogs, which the IG notes are common across the country.
Here’s why many are looking skeptically at Anderson-Seaquist’s suspension and ultimate termination. The IG learned of the evidence return from the Department of Criminal Justice Services, led by former District Attorney Mike Green. By this time, Green and his successor, Sandra Doorley had repeatedly clashed with Anderson-Seaquist over crime lab procedures.
In addition, at the same time her detractors were urging state investigations of her work, criminal defense attorneys were praising Anderson-Seaquist. They felt the crime lab was no longer an extension of the DA’s office and they felt it was a more professional operation.
Brooks, a congressional candidate who has had too many scathing state reports come out about county business during her tenure, probably had no choice but to fire her crime lab director.
Anderson-Seaquist is an outsider who came to Rochester in January 2010 after being recruited from the West Coast. It’s possible she’s a really bad manager. It’s also possible she’s been hit by a campaign to discredit her work. I’m not convinced the IG report solves that mystery. It raises more questions.