Former analyst at crime lab is charged

Exams cursory, reports false, complaint says

of the Journal Sentinel staff

Last Updated: Oct. 10, 2001

A former State Crime Laboratory analyst accused of performing cursory exams of evidence for fingerprints and then lying on reports claiming he performed sophisticated tests was charged Wednesday with three counts of misconduct in office.

Jack R. Patterson, who spent 25 years on the Milwaukee Police Department looking for fingerprints before doing the same job for five years at the crime laboratory, cut corners at the lab for up to three years before he was discovered, according to a criminal complaint.

After privately concluding that the extra steps were a "wasted" effort unlikely to reveal prints undetected during basic analysis, Patterson pretended that he had done thorough examinations because he knew his boss would make him do so if his boss found out that tests were being skipped, the complaint says.

A re-examination of evidence processed by Patterson for 210 cases revealed 345 fingerprints, 31 palmprints and 34 impressions that he missed, according to the complaint. Moreover, 174 of the fingerprints and two of the palmprints have been identified, and "at least 29" potential suspects were developed, the complaint says.

Patterson's attorney termed the allegations a sad footnote to a long career in law enforcement.

"Whatever the allegations are that he is facing, they were not motivated by ill will, financial gain or any other improper motives," Martin E. Kohler said.

Asked if Patterson plans to fight the charges, Kohler replied, "Probably not."

"We have cooperated with the state to the extent that we can to clear this up," Kohler said. "We will continue to do so.

Patterson, 57, was released on a signature bond after making his initial court appearance on the felony charges Wednesday.

Patterson worked for the laboratory from 1995 until May 2000. One month earlier, during a random quality-control exam of evidence processed by Patterson, his superiors at the lab determined that his notes misrepresented the procedures he was actually following when he analyzed evidence, according to the complaint.

After the discrepancies were found, the laboratory notified area law enforcement agencies of the situation and began reworking cases that he had handled, if the agencies so requested, according to Randy Romanski, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which oversees the lab.

During his tenure at the lab, Patterson handled evidence for roughly 1,700 cases, and law enforcement agencies asked the lab to rework evidence in 372 of those cases, Romanski said.

"There was never a false positive identification made, where he wrongly identified someone as a suspect," Romanski said.

Although additional prints were found on some of the reworked evidence, analysts were not summoned to court to testify about the new findings, according to Mike Roberts, administrator of the state Division of Law Enforcement Services.

"We do not normally find out about what happens in the cases unless we are called to court," Robert said. "But many of those cases probably are still pending."

The complaint indicates that Patterson was lying about performing a dye/laser examination for prints, an analysis in which articles are immersed in a water-based silver solution and a test in which glue is applied to highlight prints, all of which leave telltale signs on the evidence.

The complaint says "numerous" instances were found in which neither the dye/laser nor the immersion tests were conducted as Patterson indicated in his notes.

For example, during a re-examination of 44 pieces of U.S. currency for the Elkhorn Police Department, authorities not only determined that Patterson had not performed the immersion test as he had claimed, but they also found four fingerprints on the currency, while he had indicated finding no fingerprints, the complaint says.

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