Analyst at Columbia police drug lab resigns

COLUMBIA - A drug analyst at the Columbia Police Department has resigned amid concerns over some of the work she did on cases while working for the agency, officials said Monday.

Brenda Frazier submitted her resignation after an audit by the Richland County Sheriff's Department found inconsistencies in Frazier's work and raised concerns about her training and methodology, Columbia Police Chief William Holbrook told reporters during a news conference at his agency's headquarters.

A report found several problems with the lab, including failing to keep samples at proper temperatures or to use quality controls when weighing evidence. Holbrook closed the lab last week, and the State Law Enforcement Division is now handling drug case testing for the city.

Frazier was hired in late 2011 and handled nearly 750 cases over the past three years. Holbrook says more than 180 of those are being reviewed, and local prosecutors said they haven't determined how many of those cases might have been compromised.

The cases under review are all in the pre-trial phase and can't move forward until they are peer reviewed by another chemist, Holbrook said.

Department officials said that it had been the lab's practice to have all its cases peer reviewed by other departments. But, when a veteran chemist left the lab in 2012, Frazier was there alone. The reviews stopped, and a backlog piled up, according to Deputy Police Chief Melron Kelly.

Criminal defense lawyers say they are glad the cases are under review.

"This is serious - her job is important. Her drug tests can put people away for five, 10, 15 years," said Jack Swerling, a Columbia defense lawyer who has handled numerous high profile drug and murder cases. "This is going to open up the door for people to challenge all her old cases, too."