GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- At least three attorneys filed federal complaints Tuesday against the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division for allegations of serious negligence or misconduct, and to contest grant money the crime labs received this year. However, officials with both the MSP and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office told FOX 17 their agencies are not conducting investigations into these allegations.
Each complaint filed Tuesday was issued to the National Institute of Justice, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences' Director. Attorney Mike Nichols and attorneys Michael Komorn and Neil Rockind together wrote to inform the NIJ of the accusations that the MSP crime labs have been misreporting marijuana test results and elevating misdemeanors to a felony for the possession or manufacture of synthetic marijuana.
In late October, FOX 17 broke these allegations when Komorn uncovered internal MSP e-mails where some crime lab analysts and directors themselves protested a new THC reporting protocol change. Namely, MSP-FSD Controlled Substance Unit Supervisor Bradley Choate wrote in part, “For the laboratory to contribute to this possible miscarriage of justice would be a huge black eye for the division and the department.”
Komorn accuses the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of working inappropriately with and influencing policy of the MSP crime labs to misreport marijuana extracts, such as oils and edibles, as synthetic THC, a felony. The change seen on lab reports stems from a recent MSP-FSD policy change in the way THC is reported. Analysts are now required to write phrases such as “origin unknown” on crime lab reports when THC is tested when they believe they cannot determine the substance’s origin. Extracts have not been reported in this way for decades before, as one analyst testified back in April.
MSP is a 2015 recipient of the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program. This year the National Institute of Justice data shows it awarded MSP-FSD $236,488 in funding. One of the stipulations as a grant recipient is to name an independent external government entity to conduct investigations when allegations of serious negligence or misconduct occur. In addition to investigating these allegations, grant recipients are also required to report the allegations to NIJ.
However, records show that MSP-FSD has named its independent external investigating entity as MSP-Internal Affairs. In the filed federal complaints, Nichols, Komorn and Rockind state their concerns that MSP-Internal Affairs is not independent or external from MSP, and also asked for a thorough investigation to be done into these allegations.
“It’s an avenue to bring to light some very real and important concerns,” said Nichols.
“The Michigan State Police Internal Affairs unit is the entity that is set up through the grant that they applied for to investigate complaints,” he said. “Well, that’s the fox guarding the hen house obviously, but it’s the mechanism that’s in place, so I’ve asked for them to utilize it.”
The complaints filed Tuesday to NIJ follow Komorn Law’s complaints regarding MSP crime lab marijuana testing allegations filed Dec. 11 with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the Civil Rights Division for the Eastern District of Michigan, which has referred it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids.
Despite the allegations and filed complaints, MSP Public Affairs Manager Shanon Banner told FOX 17 on Tuesday that the MSP-IA is not investigating. In e-mails Banner said:
“I have confirmed that for at least the last three years, our Coverdell grant application, which was approved by the National Institute of Justice, has included the MSP Professional Standards Section (aka Internal Affairs) as the “government entity” responsible for investigating any allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. The Professional Standards Section maintains responsibility for investigating all allegations of misconduct involving MSP employees. These investigators are housed within the Office of the Director and are not members of the Forensic Science Division.
An internal policy change does not constitute misconduct or negligence. Therefore, no investigation is underway.”
When FOX 17 pressed Banner further she wrote:
“As stated in the earlier response, our designation of the MSP Professional Standards Section as the entity to conduct investigations has been approved by the NIJ for at least three grant cycles. Our review of the guidance provided by the NIJ for this grant did not uncover any federal guidelines as to what constitutes an “independent external entity.” Since the Professional Standards Section is independent, and external to the Forensic Science Division, it appears sufficient. However, your question may best be posed to the NIJ.
As to your second follow-up, the MSP does not consider your reports on a debate among colleagues prior to an internal policy decision to rise to the level of an allegation of misconduct.”
FOX 17 has reached out to the NIJ, and has yet to hear back.
Despite Banner stating the MSP does not consider these concerns allegations of misconduct, a recent chain of MSP emails show the agency appears to be keeping a close eye on FOX 17 reports. In a recent 159-page email chain between MSP personnel and supervisors that Nichols obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, in an email dated Nov. 12 Banner emailed MSP supervisors and agency leaders a link to FOX 17’s Nov. 10 report and stated:
“FYI – Here is Dana Chicklas’ most recent story from Tuesday night on medical marijuana.”
Nichols, like Komorn, Rockind, and many others, continue to push for reform in MSP crime lab procedures, beginning with a timely investigation into these allegations.
“There has been some very gray discussion about doing something to fix what happened in Ottawa County, but that’s not good enough,” said Nichols. “We need to make a change, it’s got to happen.”
"When the forensic analyst comes to court, regardless of who calls them, take off the Michigan State Police pin, put it on the stand, take off the Michigan State Police hat, and tell it like it is, and work with the accused the same way, with the same vigor, to seek justice that you would with the prosecutor."
FOX 17 has reached out to Governor Rick Snyder's office for comment regarding MSP crime lab allegations and filed complaints. As of Tuesday evening we have no response.
As for Ottawa County defendant Max Lorincz, his criminal case is pending.
Stay with FOX 17 for updates.