- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Governor Kate Brown is forming a workgroup to review the practices and procedures of the Oregon State Police crime lab, as the state investigates a forensic analyst for allegedly tampering with evidence.

The workgroup, announced on Friday, will examine the recent allegations of tampering and identify any changes that need to be made. It also will help draft new legislation if statutory changes are needed.

Last week, state authorities said evidence in hundreds of criminal cases was being reviewed following accusations that a forensic analyst stole pills and other drugs and replaced them with over-the-counter pills.

The analyst, 35-year-old Nika Larsen, worked in OSP’s Bend lab since 2012 and at two other state labs prior to that. She was placed on leave earlier this month.

The state Department of Justice took over the criminal investigation from OSP earlier this week. Spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said the state police will continue to assist with the probe.

“The credibility of the criminal justice system is critical to Oregon’s citizens,” Brown said in a statement.

The discovery puts current cases and convictions in doubt and could cost counties thousands to retest and retry cases. State police declined to publicly release the number of potentially affected cases, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he must retest the evidence in 502 cases dating back to 2012. In Klamath County, District Attorney Rob Patridge said he’s reviewing 328 cases dating as far back as 2007. And in Polk County, District Attorney Aaron Felton is reviewing 35 cases.

Last week, state police also said a second forensic analyst at its crime lab had been investigated. Investigators found Jeff Dovci, who worked at OSP’s Central Point lab, had overstated evidence during a criminal trial in 2005. Dovci, who has since retired, disputes the state’s allegations and says his interpretation of evidence is a matter of opinion.

The state police operates five labs. Others are in Springfield, Pendleton and Portland. Lt. Bill Fugate, a state police spokesman, said the forensic labs have very strict policies and procedures in place, including regular audits. But, he said, the disclosures about the analysts are prompting further reviews.

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