Federal complaints allege marijuana misreporting by State Police crime lab ​

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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.

Read Nichols' full NIJ complaint here.

Read Rockind and Komorn's NIJ complaint here.

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.

Read Komorn Law's filed DOJ complaint here.

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.

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  • Andrew

    It is not the job of the State Police to interpret the law, it is only their job to enforce it. If there is ambiguity in the law and they are unclear how to enforce it, THEY are the ones who ought to be complining to the feds and granting the people the benefit of the doubt until the law gets clarified. This police state BS only undermines their relationship with the public, erodes public trust, and ultimately decays their own authority (which, you should remember, derives from the people to begin with).

  • Rob Shaffer

    I am not from Michigan but after reading this article and other articles regarding the police cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries for what appears to be no good reason it looks as though your leadership is off the rails. Thwarting the will of the people through loopholes, lies and manipulation is hardly the way public officials should act. Your citizens need to correct these people.

  • robert redden

    I am glad that finely something is being done and Fox 17 is reporting a story that needed to be told long ago

    Not only our the MSP in on making sure the arrest for medical marihuana goes up as it has been for the last 7 years Oakland County is leading the charge just look at how many medical marihuana case’s have gone to a Jury and the person couldn’t even say the words medical marihuana if Fox 17 wants to contact me i’ll show them what its like with the Redden and Clark case i have the Video from our Court percendings that Fox 17 wouldn’t believe

    Mr.Nichols, Mr.Komorn and Mr.Rockind Thank you for standing up for us all

  • William Clark

    Prohibition of marijuana is built upon a tissue of lies: Concern For Public Safety. Our new laws save two hundred lives every year, on the highways alone.

    Consider the Federal Census stats on yearly driving fatalities state by state, from 1990 to 2009. All states have seen their death rates drop, but on average, those with medical marijuana laws posted declines 12% larger than the non-medical states. Vehicles with airbags must have helped as well, without affecting the disproportion between the ‘legal states’ and those ‘not yet, in 2009’.

    In 2012, a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating a motor vehicle is slower driving”.

    Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!’”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana actually encourages brain-cell growth. Studies in Spain and other countries have discovered that it has tumor-shrinking, anti-carcinogenic properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.

    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kaneh bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair.

    What gets to me are the politicians who pose on church steps or kneeling in prayer on their campaign trails, but can’t face the scientific or the historical truths about cannabis.

  • Jessica LeRoux

    Readers might also be interested in the story of Annie dookhan of Massachusetts who faked drug tests for years on behalf of MA prosecutors, and in Colorado Cynthia burbach head if the state’s criminal testing lab was fired and the state lab was permanently shut down when collusion with prosecutors was proven in CO… Nationwide problem due to financial interedpendance of Leos labs and lockdown in for-profit prisons

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