- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A former St. Louis police chemist who says she was fired after complaining about drug testing errors at the city crime lab is facing off against her onetime bosses and co-workers this week at a trial expected to feature some of the department’s top commanders as witnesses.

Ex-crime lab worker Margart Owens, a 25-year employee before her 2010 firing, sued the city police department in May 2011. Owens claims her concerns about a co-worker’s mistakes three years earlier led to her dismissal. When she learned of the errors and raised her concerns with supervisors, the issue was swept under the rug, even though later testing confirmed she was right, her attorneys said.

“A police department crime lab is never allowed to needlessly put people in danger,” attorney Hugh Eastwood said in his opening statement Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (bit.ly/1mWhPff) reported. “If it does, and an innocent person goes to jail, or a dangerous person goes back on the street, then the crime lab is responsible.”

State prosecutors with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the St. Louis Police Department, countered that Owens instead lost her job for disobeying orders by working on a homicide case when she was told drug cases should be her sole priority.

“While Margart was an excellent chemist, Margart usually didn’t play well with others,” said Assistant Attorney General Christopher Hoell. When Owens was challenged by a supervisor, she stormed out of a room, throwing up her hands in frustration, he said. Hoell said that Owens later lied as part of an internal affairs investigation and was cited for insubordination, false reporting and failing to follow orders.

Owens alleges that twice in 2008, a fellow chemist did not follow proper testing procedures and failed to detect benzylpiperazine in pills examined in the lab. Benzylpiperazine, also known as BZP, is a powerful stimulant used in the drug Ecstasy.

Eastwood said his client is seeking a minimum of $665,000 in lost earnings.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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