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State police head to testify about breath alcohol devices

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The head of the Michigan State Police is scheduled to appear Thursday before the state Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about problems with calibration of the instruments used by police statewide to test blood alcohol content.

State police director Col. Joseph Gasper said in a statement Monday that his department launched a criminal investigation into alleged fraud by the St. Louis company Intoximeters Inc., which had a contract with the state to calibrate more than 200 Datamaster DMT instruments.

State officials last week suspended the contract after the company was found allegedly falsifying records and misrepresenting when the devices were calibrated, state police officials said.

MSP established a unit to take over the calibration of the Datamaster units.

Datamaster DMT

Phone calls and emails to Intoximeters were not returned.

Legal experts say the development could lead to a flood of appeals and other motions in drunken driving cases, although prosecutors and defense attorneys say they're still trying to figure out the scope of the problem.

"At this point, we're just waiting for more information," said Livingston County Prosecutor Bill Vailliencourt, who also is director of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Association of Michigan.

"Prosecutors are identifying open cases that involve the Datamaster, and we're sending out information to defendants and attorneys," he said. "But we need to find out from MSP exactly what the issue was, and how widespread it was.

"One of the big issues is, what's the time frame? Are we talking about something that just happened in December, or is it longer than that? That's obviously a key question in determining the problem," Vailliencourt said.

State police spokesman Lt. Michael Shaw said Gasper will address many of those issues when he testifies before the Senate panel.

"A lot of those questions will be answered when the colonel speaks to the Judiciary Committee," Shaw said.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said she has several questions for Gasper.

"I want to hear the technicalities of how this happened, and learn more about the contract," she said. "What kind of oversight and checks and balances were in place?"

Chang added the problems with the vendor illustrate why Michigan needs more oversight of its forensic crime labs. She and Sen. Tom Barrett. R-Charlotte, sponsored a bill to establish a forensic science commission.

"It would provide oversight over forensic science labs and techniques," Chang said. "This is one of those issues where if we'd had a commission, we'd be able to take a quicker look at this issue and prevent it from happening. This underscores exactly why we need that bill passed."

Chang said she asked East Lansing defense attorney Michael J. Nichols, who specializes in drunk driving cases, to testify at the hearing.

Senate Bill 0276 passed through the Judiciary Committee in October and is awaiting a vote in the full Senate.

Gasper said state police identified "possible discrepancies" with Datamaster units used by sheriff's offices in Alpena, Montcalm and Van Buren counties; police departments in Beverly Hills, Niles, Pittsfield Township and Tecumseh; and the Detroit Detention Center, which is used by several Metro Detroit police departments.

Detroit police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said state police recalibrated the Datamaster at the Detroit Detention Center on Tuesday.

"It's functioning with no restrictions," Kirkwood said of the Datamaster, which is owned by Detroit police, but was serviced by Intoximeters prior to their contract being terminated.

Royal Oak attorney Barton Morris, who specializes in forensic science, said he's evaluating his drunken driving cases that involve Datamaster results.

"We're taking a close look at every single pending case we have where (the Datamaster) was used," Morris said. "We have 15 pending cases, and we'll probably file motions to figure out who wrote the reports, and make that person testify about the details of that report.

"We're going to use our subpoena powers to try to shed light on this," Morris said. "So not only is MSP investigating this — we're investigating it, too. It'll all come out eventually."


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN