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Growing pains for NC law enforcement: Goodbye Andy Taylor

by Brian Clarey

Sheriff Andy Taylor would be ashamed. Revelations in a federal investigation of North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation — that the agency followed a pattern of obstruction, conspiracy and falsification over a period of 20 years — should shake the foundation of all of us who have trusted the firmament that laws provide for our society. But the fair-minded sheriff of Mayberry, who has become both an endearing symbol of and derogatory reference to our state’s law enforcement agencies, would perhaps be the most disillusioned of us all.

A Raleigh News & Observer series, “Agents’ Secrets,” that ran earlier this month, gave evidence of bad science in the crime lab, collusion between investigators and prosecutors, and wrongful convictions. The FBI investigation began at the behest of Attorney General Roy Cooper after Greg Taylor was exonerated after 17 years on death row. Three other men whose convictions proved to be baseless have already succumbed to lethal injection.

More than 200 cases that relied on blood work froM the sbi’s corrupted serology lab are under review, affecting the sentences of More than 80 convicted defendants who are currently in jail.

More than 200 cases that relied on blood work from the SBI’s corrupted serology lab are under review, affecting the sentences of more than 80 convicted defendants who are currently in jail.

So far there has been a firing — SBI Director Robin Pendergraft, last month — and a suspension — analyst Duane Deaver, who was central to several pending cases and is one of the only offenders who is still alive. And there is more to come. An independent audit of the entire bureau is in the works.

Meanwhile we have 20 years of bad police work to sort through. It resonates in the Triad, this cluster of mid-sized cities, because we rely on the SBI more often than rural areas with less crime and also bigger cities with greater law enforcement resources. We use the SBI lab for all of our blood work, depend on its investigators to regulate internecine conflicts within our police and sheriff’s departments, lean on their expertise and support for serious crimes.

And we’ve seen our share of the wrongfully convicted here as well. The bright light in this dark time is that Cooper and members of both parties in the NC General Assembly have resisted the urge to cover this up or sweep it under the rug. We applaud Cooper for taking a hard, honest look at his department and, when confronted with the ugly truth, acting like a man of honor instead of a man of politics. If all the furor raise here is more than just lip service, expect a holistic restructuring of the SBI in the months and years to come.

For now there is the matter of three dead men, murdered in our name under false pretenses. What are we prepared to do about that?

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