CPD drug analyst resigns after audit questioned her methodology

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A drug analyst with the Columbia Police Department has resigned after a memo from Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson raised questions about the quality of work at the department's drug lab.

Analyst Brenda Frazier submitted her resignation on Monday, according to Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, who asked the Richland County Sheriff's Department to perform an audit.

That audit conducted on July 11 found several inconsistencies and questionable lab practices by Frazier.

Dr. Demetra Garvin with the Richland County Sheriff's Department said Frazier had "significant gaps in her previous training and experience and may not currently possess the knowledge necessary to competently perform drug analysis."

After the audit, Holbrook issued a directive to cease operation of the drug lab at the Columbia Police Department on Thursday. However, all chemical drug analysis in the lab was discontinued on July 21.

Columbia Police Deputy Chief Melron Kelly said Frazier had been hired at the lab in late 2011. In 2012, Kelly said, the lab's veteran chemist left, leaving only Frazier.

Kelly said it's been the practice of the lab to have all cases it handles peer reviewed by other departments. At some point, Kelly said, those peer reviews stopped, causing a backlog in cases at the lab.

Kelly said this development alarmed Chief Holbrook and contributed to the audit being ordered.

Frazier handled 746 cases with the department, according to Holbrook, and all are now being reviewed by the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office. Of those cases, 188 still need to be peer reviewed by another chemist.

Holbrook says they are in the pre-trial phase and can't move forward till that happens.

While the lab is shut down, Columbia police will submit their drug evidence to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Solicitor Dan Johnson said.

"The solicitor's office is currently in the process of conducting a case-by-case audit of all City of Columbia drug cases analyzed by Frazier in order to determine the best course of action to ensure fair and ethical prosecution and dispositions which are based on sound evidence and grounded in accepted scientific methodology," Johnson said.

A spokesperson for the Columbia Police Department said the department is committed to the continued collaboration with SLED, RCSD, and the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office on this matter, and in the interest of justice.

The drug lab remains shut down and it is unknown how long it will remain offline.

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