boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Director of crime lab quits post

State Police facility's work is under fire

Carl Selavka ran the lab since July 1998. Carl Selavka ran the lab since July 1998.

The longtime civilian director of the State Police crime laboratory abruptly resigned under pressure yesterday over the alleged mishandling of DNA test results in about two-dozen unsolved sexual assault cases.

Carl Selavka, who has run the lab since July 1998, submitted his resignation effective Monday to state Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke, who said an internal investigation found problems in Selavka's management.

"He voluntarily resigned, but I can tell you that he understood his performance was being reviewed and was being received negatively," Burke said. "The nature of Dr. Selavka's resignation was an admission that he didn't meet his responsibility."

Burke appointed Mary Kate McGilvray, a 20-year veteran of the lab who has worked on numerous homicide cases, as the lab's acting director. He also said that Vance, an international risk management consulting firm with an office in Braintree, has been hired to conduct a $267,000 review of the lab, which examines criminal evidence from cities and towns across the state. The report is due by June 30.

Selavka resigned two months after Robert E. Pino, the administrator of the lab's DNA database, was suspended with pay Jan. 11 for allegedly failing to report DNA matches promptly. Most of the cases can no longer be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired when police and district attorneys were told of the matches.

State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, cochairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, said Selavka's departure indicates that the lab's problems go beyond Pino's alleged lapses.

Barrios, who had previously announced that he would hold legislative hearings about the lab, said yesterday that he is awaiting the results of an FBI audit that began after Pino's suspension to "see who ultimately bears responsibility for the impermissible lapses that have happened."

Burke, a former longtime Essex district attorney whom Governor Deval Patrick appointed as public safety secretary in January, said Vance will pay attention to the employees who handle DNA evidence, including Pino.

The laboratory has 115 employees, said a spokesman for Burke, including a handful involved in the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, the FBI-funded computer system that serves as a registry of 3.1 million DNA samples of convicted criminals collected by law enforcement nationwide. CODIS is used to seek matches to evidence found at crime scenes, leading investigators to suspects.

"Everybody in the CODIS end of the lab -- everybody's performance is under review," Burke said in a telephone interview.

Over the past decade, DNA has become the gold standard in forensic evidence, and Burke and several prosecutors have expressed growing alarm that problems at the lab may undermine jurors' faith in such evidence.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said in a statement provided by Burke that "the public should understand that the science produced by the laboratory has been and continues to be of the highest reliability."

In the statement, O'Keefe also praised McGilvray's expertise. McGilvray, whose husband, Thomas, retired this month as a major in the State Police, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Selavka also could not be reached for comment. His resignation was a major turn in a series of events that has given the State Police crime lab its latest black eye. Like many forensic labs, it has struggled to reduce a backlog of DNA samples to analyze.

Most of the public comments by Burke and State Police in the past two months had focused on Pino, a 23-year employee of the lab who testified in more than 240 criminal cases and who helped set up and run the Massachusetts DNA database.

But a federal inspection of the laboratory, completed in September, found problems with the handling of DNA evidence that went beyond those that prompted the agency to suspend Pino.

Reflecting concern about Selavka's management of the lab, Burke said, Selavka's contact with the DNA computer database had been severely restricted to make sure that he could not taint the investigations by the State Police or FBI.

"We couldn't even leave the appearance that he could somehow influence or change the outcome of our internal investigation," Burke said.

Reached at home yesterday, Pino declined to comment about Selavka's resignation. Through his union, Pino has attributed any lapses on an overworked staff, an argument that Burke disputes.

Joseph Dorant, president of the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists, said yesterday that Selavka's resignation vindicates Pino.

"I told you in the beginning that I don't think this is about one guy," he said. "This is about a crime lab that's overworked and understaffed. Bob is a hard-working, honest scientist, and he is being made the scapegoat."

The internal investigation has found three categories of problems, Burke said.

First, Pino allegedly told law enforcement officials too late about 21 positive DNA matches in sexual assault cases dating as far back as the late 1980s.

Second, he allegedly prepared four reports about near-matches between DNA profiles of convicted felons and DNA from sexual assaults, apparently to alert law enforcement officials that a relative of a convict might have committed the crime. State officials maintain that such searches for familial links, a controversial practice, are prohibited at the lab, though Pino has cited an e-mail from a legal counsel to the State Police as evidence that such searches were allowed.

Third, the State Police collected DNA profiles of 12 people convicted of misdemeanors though state law limits the database to convicted felons.

Burke said it was unclear why the 12 DNA profiles were in the database.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES