Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Police Chemist Caused a Stir over Drug Test Errors, but Did That Get Her Fired?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Police Chemist Caused a Stir over Drug Test Errors, but Did That Get Her Fired?

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Margart Owens was called into city police headquarters on her day off and met by human resources officials and some of department's top brass. A tape recorder was placed on a table.

Owens, by all accounts one of the crime lab's more accomplished chemists, was told she would be suspended from her job of 25 years over two things:

* Repeatedly complaining, inside and outside the department, that a colleague had erred in drug testing on two criminal cases in 2008.

* Protesting and disobeying an order to focus on drug cases instead of a fatal arson that occurred May 5, 2010. Owens had carried arson evidence to another unit in the department and held a flashlight while it was inspected. Owens previously was allowed to work on arsons, and helped identify a suspect in that case, she said.

Just which of those issues ultimately led to her firing in October 2010 has been the central dispute in a week of testimony in a lawsuit Owens brought against her former bosses. She seeks at least $665,000 in damages. The trial resumes this week.

The department insists that Owens' complaints about the handling of drug tests had nothing to do with her termination. Her attorneys have suggested it was the only reason, and that her supervisors used the arson case as an excuse to push her out.

Owens said that after the May 21 meeting, she was questioned extensively by internal affairs investigators regarding both issues.

She said she was ordered not to talk about it to anyone, not even an attorney, or she would be fired. Police officials have testified that Owens was explicitly told she could have an attorney.

Owens said that five months later, with no further explanation, she was told her services were no longer needed.

A transcript of the meeting's recording was provided to the plaintiff's lawyers last week, after being misplaced from Owens' Internal Affairs file. The portion of the meeting in dispute is described in the transcript as inaudible. The transcript also was dated incorrectly, which officials could not explain. The original recording has not been located.

Owens testified last week that she complained to her supervisors repeatedly about fellow chemist Allyson Seger's failure to detect an illegal stimulant, benzylpiperazine, in pills that came into the lab in two criminal cases. …

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