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The Case of Mariem Megalla

by ANTHONY PAPA

Mariem Megalla is a 24-year veteran forensic technician with the New York Police Department. She was suspended from her job last year when she was caught falsifying drug test results at the NYPD’s crime lab in Jamaica, Queens. Because of this, thousands of court cases were thrown into question, prompting Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to call a meeting with representatives of the five district attorneys at the office of NYC’s special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan.

Given the length of her tenure at the NYPD, it was reported that potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of cases would have to be reviewed. In one example, Megalla was accused of labeling a crack pipe positive for cocaine when it actually tested negative because she didn’t want to walk to another building to fill out the required paperwork. Megalla’s slacking on the job led to a probe by the both the NYPD and the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

One year later, a lot of questions remain unanswered about this case. It’s not even clear whether Mariem Megalla is back on the job or not. I contacted the NYPD’s Public Affairs Office and was told to email my questions to them. No response. I contacted the Queens District Attorney’s office and spoke to Helen Peterson who declined to talk about their investigation of the case. I then talked to several reporters who had covered the story and most everyone seemed like they were in the dark about current news of it. Although one reporter told me that he thought Megalla is back on duty full-time.

The public has a right to know the outcome of this investigation. There’s a possibility that thousands of people’s lives were adversely affected by Megalla’s actions, and the absence of any real information after an entire year is suspicious, at best. Especially when you consider the very different outcome of a similar case in nearby Nassau:

Recently, it was pointed out that 3,000 convictions were in question due to possible tainted evidence in the Nassau County crime lab. After a flurry of press coverage, District Attorney Kathleen Rice responded to the discovery in the same way the NYPD did in the Magella case – by making a public announcement of a meeting with top-level officials to deal with the issue. But that’s where the similarity stops. In the Nassau County crime lab case, Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly intervened and appointed State Inspector General Ellen Biben to lead an investigation, which led to the labs demise. In turn, Rice was compelled to send letters to hundreds of potential defendants which eventually led to many filing motions to overturn their convictions.

But in the Megalla case it seems to be totally the opposite. Recently, I was contacted by Diana Collins, whose son is in NY state prison serving an 8-year sentence for possession of less than 1 gram of crack. D’ Juan Collins was sentenced in 2008 and has been fighting his conviction ever since. He claims to be wrongfully convicted, and has been denied exculpatory evidence by the NYPD that would show Megalla’s mishandling of the drugs used to convict him. But far worse for him than his sentence is the fact that he is now in jeopardy of losing parental rights to his 4-year old son Isaiah, who is currently in foster care. My question is how many D’ Juan Collins’s have been denied evidence that could be used to challenge their convictions?

The NYPD needs to alert the public to the outcome of the Mariem Megalla case and assure that justice has been served.

Anthony Papa is the author of 15
Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom
and Communications
Specialist for Drug Policy
Alliance
. He can be reached at: anthonypapa123@yahoo.com

 

Anthony Papa is a manager of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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