A whistleblower who alleged policy violations at the Fort Worth Police Department Crime Laboratory over the last two years has sued the city of Fort Worth, accusing her supervisors and other city employees of retaliation.
FORT WORTH — A whistleblower who alleged policy violations at the Fort Worth Police Department Crime Laboratory over the last two years has sued the city of Fort Worth, accusing her supervisors and other city employees of retaliation.
Trisa Crutcher first reported possible violations in the lab's biology unit in 2018. Then, in July, she filed a 174-page whistleblower report with the Fort Worth Police Department, FBI and the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which investigates complaints at accredited state labs.
The report describes an extreme lag in testing of child sexual abuse cases, falsification of records and policy violations that could affect hundreds of criminal cases, including death penalty investigations. It also details retaliation that Crutcher said she faced from her superiors, which is the basis for the lawsuit filed on Thursday in Dallas County.
At October's virtual board meeting, the state science commission voted to establish an investigative panel to look at the complaints laid out in Crutcher's report.
A spokesperson said the city of Fort Worth had no comment because it had not been served
Allegations in the lawsuit
Crutcher has been an employee of the crime lab's biology unit since 2011 and her duties include screening evidence for biological material and then testing DNA. Part of her duties, according to the lawsuit, is to report issues to management if they arise.
Crutcher reported to her supervisors in June 2018 that the "DNA submission form" documents were not being filled out correctly, specifically regarding a yes or no question that gives a forensic scientist "permission to consume" the given sample — meaning the scientist either can use part or all of a DNA sample during testing.
According to the lab's policy, a forensic scientist should keep an untested portion of the evidence sample, unless the scientist has reason to believe that using the entire sample will yield a stronger result. Using the full sample means that if the test isn't done correctly, if it comes back inconclusive or the defendant wants to test it, then subsequent tests might not be possible because the entire sample has been used by the prosecution, according to multiple attorneys who spoke with the Star-Telegram in September.
For the lab to have permission to consume a sample, the OK must be given by the case investigator, per policy. However, the crime lab's liaison was signing the permission to consume documents herself, according to Crutcher's report.
This violation was also investigated by Tarrant County visiting judge Elizabeth Berry, who filed a 32-page report about the violations in August related to a capital murder case. Several biology unit employees, including Crutcher, testified in hearings with Berry.
Crutcher also reported that the crime lab was issuing reports from a "photography unit" and a "evidence screening unit," neither of which exist. Those reports were used in criminal proceedings, according to the lawsuit.
When Crutcher first reported her concerns, Crime Lab Director Michael Ward threatened to fire her, according to the lawsuit. When she realized Ward wasn't taking her complaints seriously, she moved them up the chain to Fort Worth police, the lawsuit says.
A previous statement from the police department said it investigated and found no wrongdoing. However, Berry wrote in her report that there is no evidence that Crutcher (or another lab employee who complained about policy violations) ever made false allegations.
About a year later, Crutcher reported that sexual assault cases weren't being tested in the time frame required by law. She continued to report the violations after nothing was being done about them, according to the lawsuit.
Ward retaliated against Crutcher in several ways over the last two years, according to the lawsuit, including putting her on administrative leave in June. Crutcher said a police employee told her it was because she continued to slander the crime lab by reporting the alleged violations, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says the lab's leadership created a hostile work environment over the last two years. Before her first report, Crutcher received good performance evaluations but after her complaints, she received negative and unsubstantiated comments regarding her performance, according to the lawsuit. Crutcher fears the city is gearing up to terminate her.
The lawsuit seeks $200,000 to $1 million in damages against the city.