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Colorado state toxicology lab suspends blood-alcohol testing in wake of withering report

Greg Campbell
Contributor

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment is suspending all testing of blood-alcohol and blood-drug levels at its state toxicology lab pending an investigation to see if they are being done correctly.

An independent lab will take over testing any new or unprocessed samples in the meantime. And it will also retest as many as 800 blood-alcohol samples done by the state lab to ensure they were accurate.

The suspended testing is the latest fallout from a withering workplace investigation done in March by Mountain States Employees Council based upon complaints by a former employee.

The report found employees are not properly trained to conduct blood-alcohol tests, the linchpin of many drunk driving cases, and that they weren’t properly trained to teach new employees to do them.

It also found that employees weren’t adequately trained to give expert testimony in court and that blood samples awaiting testing weren’t stored in a locked refrigerator.

And investigators found it “more than likely” that an unnamed supervisor made comments to suggest she was biased in favor of prosecutors. Employees reported overhearing the supervisor make statements like, “I really stuck it to the defendant today,” and “I’m sure he’s going to jail.”

That bias was also manifest in the supervisor’s habit of making “excessive accommodations for prosecutors and law enforcement agencies,” resulting in a greater workload.

Finally, the report concluded that employees “justifiably perceive” that the supervisor “treats employees disrespectfully and that s/he is a ‘bully.’”

The report opened the door for legal challenges in hundreds of drunk driving cases and led to the resignation of the supervisor cited in the report.

Dr. Chris Urbina, the state’s chief medical officer, also resigned, saying in a press release that he’s stepping down to “explore other opportunities.”

In addition to suspending the blood tests, the lab will be audited by the Association of Public Health Laboratories and as many as 800 blood samples will be retested for accuracy by an independent lab, according to a story on Denver’s 7News.

“We will have an independent laboratory retest approximately 800 blood-alcohol samples to verify the state toxicology lab’s blood-alcohol test results,” Urbina told the station on his last day of work on Friday.

“We take seriously the concerns from law enforcement, public defenders and the public — and this is the best way for us to verify the accuracy of testing at the toxicology lab,” he said.

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