From AP REPORTS
HOUSTON (AP) – The Texas Department of Public Safety hired the former DNA supervisor at Houston's crime lab despite knowing she was under investigation for cheating on a proficiency exam in Houston.
Vanessa Nelson, 33, was hired this month to run the DNA division of the DPS crime lab in McAllen, officials said.
Nelson resigned from the troubled Houston Police Department crime lab Jan. 10 to avoid being fired. The police department said an internal investigation found Nelson gave analysts the answers to a DNA skills test that's administered twice a year to ensure quality work.
Nelson declined to comment.
The Houston DNA division, which was closed from 2002 to 2006 because of shoddy work, has now been closed again while the department looks for a new supervisor, a police spokesman said. An outside vendor will conduct the tests in the meantime.
Spokeswoman Tela Mange said DPS officials knew of the cheating allegations but also had confidence in Nelson because she worked for DPS before joining the Houston lab.
"She was an outstanding employee then, and her supervisors expect that she will be again," Mange said.
Joe Marchan, head of DPS' McAllen lab, said he knew about the cheating investigation involving Nelson, but he didn't know the allegations were confirmed.
"As far as we knew, it was unproven," he said.
State Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, said DPS' decision to hire Nelson while she was under investigation in Houston was troubling.
"The integrity of these DNA labs is so critical," he said. "Their work has life-and-death consequences."
Nelson applied for the DPS job during the investigation. She was hired this month and starts the job in March.
The cheating accusations, which also led to disciplinary measures for two lab workers, were the latest problem for the crime lab.
The Innocence Project of Texas is reviewing about 180 serology cases that were identified by a county review as having "major issues." The crime lab's accuracy has been in question since at least 2002, when the DNA section was shut down.
Inaccuracies were later found in four other lab divisions that test firearms, body fluids and controlled substances.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com