KOLD Investigates: Justice put on hold for some - Tucson News Now

KOLD Investigates: Justice put on hold for some

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Every day, crimes are committed against innocent people.

Tucson's Justin Quinn is one of those innocent victims.

"Not only did they clean out my house, they also attacked my dog,” Quinn said. “She had a bunch of blood on her mouth."

In November 2016, Quinn’s home was burglarized in the middle of the afternoon while he was away at school.

"They took all of my electronics, my sports memorabilia ... everything," Quinn said.

He estimates about $7,000 of goods were taken.

Police were immediately called in to investigate.

Upon arrival, Quinn said crime scene investigators swabbed DNA of the blood in the dog’s mouth. They also took pieces of evidence to test for prints.

More than six months later, he still doesn’t know who did it and neither do police.

Justin Quinn's Tucson home was broken into six months ago. (Source: Justin Quinn / Facebook)

Huge Backlog

The reason is a number of property crime cases are being put on hold as a result of an ongoing backlog at the Department of Public Safety Southern Arizona Crime Lab, as well as the Tucson Police Department Crime Lab.

According to Jim Maciulla of the DPS Crime Lab, their primary backlog is made up of burglary and auto theft cases.

Right now, his team of 20 forensic scientists has a backlog of 3,500 cases.

“We’re averaging about a thousand cases a month,” Maciulla said.

Those cases include running forensic tests on anything from DNA at the scene of a homicide, blood alcohol of a drunk driver, bullets from a drive-by shooting, or the fingerprints of a burglar.

“There’s the pressure of having that backlog,” Maciulla said.

While touring the facility, the crime lab manager said the backlog is the result of reduced federal funding and a lack of forensic scientists. Currently, the DPS Crime Lab has 14 vacancies.

A Domino Effect

And just like a domino effect, the ongoing backlog is impacting the Pima County Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department.

“In our property crime cases and burglaries, we wait almost a year before we can even charge the case -- making the case old before it ever even starts,” said Kellie Johnson of the Pima County Attorney’s Office Criminal Division.

Through a Freedom of Information Act Request, Tucson News Now found the Pima County Sheriff’s Department is bypassing the DPS Crime Lab in Tucson because of the backup.

Since 2014, PCSD has contracted with DNA Labs International in Deerfield Beach, Florida. The Sheriff’s Office sends them a majority of its cases for testing, at a cost of $215,000 per year.

Recently, the Sheriff’s Office renewed its contract until 2018.

"The Sheriff’s Office has decided to work with a private lab … basically because of our backlog,” Maciulla said.

Costly Problem

The costs don't end once the tests in Florida are complete.

It can cost up to $1,800 a day for the Pima County Attorney’s Office to bring in an expert witness from that private lab to testify in a case.

"We pay to fly them in, we pay for their days of testimony, we pay for their testing and we pay for their trial preparation," Johnson explained.

Through another records request, Tucson News Now found it’s estimated the Pima County Attorney’s Office spent thousands of dollars on expert witness fees tied to the private lab.

"Anytime the government needs to spend money to do its job … that affects the taxpayers," Johnson said.

Money aside, the victims of crimes that go unsolved because of the backlog, feel this waiting game has gone on for far too long.

"It's a scary thing — you feel really violated,” Quinn said. “I’ve kind of given up a little bit — and that's not what I want.”

As mentioned, there’s also a backlog happening at the Tucson Police Department Crime Lab.

Interim crime lab superintendent Frank Powell said they have a backlog of 2,500 cases.

In an email, he said additional funding and personnel would be needed to reduce the turnaround time.

Right now, a DNA case takes upwards of 111 days to complete.

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