- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The firing of a State Bureau of Investigation agent who was linked to dozens of misreported state crime lab results should be upheld because his supervisors acted appropriately and with just cause, an administrative law judge ruled Tuesday.

Former SBI Agent Duane Deaver had petitioned the Office of Administrative Hearings to get his job back after the bureau dismissed him in early 2011, citing three reasons. Among them was a motion from a state innocence commission accusing Deaver of perjuring himself in a hearing that eventually led to a man’s exoneration on murder charges.

Deaver’s dismissal letter also said he violated policy while he was on leave by correcting an ethics complaint filed against another law enforcement officer and in commenting “that’s a wrap, baby” at the end of a video recording of a bloodstain recreation.

Temporary Administrative Law Judge James Conner, who held hearings on Deaver’s request for reinstatement and back pay last April, determined it was defensible for supervisors to fire Deaver.

The state “met its burden of proof that it had just cause to dismiss (Deaver) for unacceptable personal conduct without prior warning or disciplinary action,” Conner wrote.

Conner’s ruling is essentially a recommendation.

The case now goes to the North Carolina State Human Resources Commission, where more documents will be filed and possibly oral arguments heard before the personnel panel makes the final decision. The panel’s decision could be appealed to Superior Court.

“We look forward to the next step in the process,” said Philip Isley, one of Deaver’s attorneys.

Conner wrote that Deaver’s attorneys presented little evidence to support their theory that Deaver was fired as a scapegoat for the SBI, which had suffered at the time following an outside independent review of the crime lab where Deaver had worked. The review covered a 16-year period ending in 2003.

As for the internal investigation that led to Deaver’s firing, Conner wrote, “the decision process was remarkable for being deliberate, thorough, careful and open to dissenting voices.”

Isley declined to comment directly about Conner criticizing Deaver’s response to the perjury and contempt allegations. Deaver, “through counsel, exhibited a tasteful disregard for the judicial system of this state,” Conner wrote.

Until earlier this month, the State Bureau of Investigation was under the state Department of Justice, which is led by Attorney General Roy Cooper. The department also was named in Deaver’s complaint. Department spokeswoman Noelle Talley declined comment on Conner’s ruling. The state crime lab remains in the department but had been recently separated from the SBI.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a state panel that investigates potentially wrongful convictions, previously accused Deaver of misleading the panel based on comments he gave to a commission investigator and testimony at a hearing into the murder conviction of Greg Taylor. The commission recommended that Taylor’s case go to a three-judge panel, which declared Taylor innocent in 2010.

Deaver’s testimony related to blood tests led to the outside lab review that concluded SBI analysts had frequently misstated or falsely reported blood evidence.

The commission requested a court hearing to decide whether Deaver should be held in criminal contempt. The contempt allegation was ultimately dismissed after Deaver acknowledged his testimony was confusing.

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