Criminal justice at its worst: Shocking, shoddy, bias-filled investigation and DNA mishandling in Holtzclaw case
In Oklahoma City, words don’t mean what they plainly mean. Asking government officials simple questions prompts Orwellian acrobatics. By distorting language and obfuscating actions, public bureaucrats subvert transparency and evade accountability.
Whether in the fictional dictatorship of Oceania, or the true-life fascistic regime of North Korea, or the petty tyranny of Oklahoma, linguistic deceit is an instrument of a State with something to hide.
Two weeks ago, I reported that former Oklahoma City Police Department senior forensic analyst Elaine Taylor is the mother-in-law of Detective Rocky Gregory, who co-led the investigation of former OCPD officer Daniel Holtzclaw. This information was not disclosed by police or prosecutors before, during, or after a biased investigation, botched forensic analysis and testimony, and chaotic trial that resulted in a 263-year sentence for Holtzclaw — who has maintained his complete and actual innocence from the start and is appealing his convictions.
According to the Oklahoma City Police Operations Manual, Section 105.0 on relationships between department employees:
“All employees should avoid situations, which give rise to an actual or apparent conflict between their professional responsibilities and their relationships with other employees. However, should such a situation develop, it is the duty of the involved employee(s) to immediately notify their commanding officer, either in person or through the chain of-command, or directly notify their Bureau Chief.
“It becomes the responsibility of the employee’s Bureau Chief to eliminate conflict, by taking appropriate action and keeping the best interests of both the employee and the Department in mind.”
I asked Oklahoma City’s Police Chief William Citty and Taylor’s crime lab supervisor Campbell Ruddock three straightforward questions:
1) Were you aware of the close, familial relationship between Elaine Taylor and her son-in-law, Det. Rocky Gregory?
2) How was Taylor assigned to the Daniel Holtzclaw case, on which Det. Gregory served as co-lead sex-crimes unit investigator?
3) Did Taylor, Gregory or their commanding officers notify their bureau chiefs, and did either of those chiefs notify you?
Oklahoma City’s litigation division head Richard Smith responded on Citty and Ruddock’s behalf, stating that the police department policy on disclosing conflicts of interests that I cited “refers to the relationships of employees regarding supervision and/or assignments, not to family members working on the same cases.”
Strange. The plain language of the policy states that “all employees” should “avoid situations” giving rise to conflicts of interest “with other employees” — without regard to their status as supervisors and without any specification on whether the situations involve “assignments” or not.
Is there a special Okie dictionary that translates “all employees” to “all employees except the ones we decide should be exempt whenever we decide it’s convenient”?
Smith failed to answer how Taylor was assigned to the case. He did, however, admit that the “administration of the OCPD was aware of the relationship between Elaine Taylor and Rocky Gregory.” Yet, the administration did not disclose this relationship to Holtzclaw’s defense team, which was then denied an opportunity to cross-examine Taylor and Gregory about that relationship to impeach the witnesses by uncovering potential bias and prejudice against Holtzclaw.
Smith then implicitly argued that no conflict existed anyway because Elaine Taylor was “assigned to (accuser Jannie) Ligons’ rape complaint, which was assigned to Detective Kim Davis.”
Finally, Smith glibly asserted, “the forensic lab did not have a Holtzclaw case.”
The only thing missing from this doozy of a reply was a Clintonian retort that “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”
Let’s break down the Oklahoma City litigation head’s flimsy rhetorical walls of obstruction:
1) Forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Rocky Gregory, interrogated Holtzclaw with Det. Davis on June 18, 2014, just 14 hours after Holtzclaw pulled over Jannie Ligons at an end-of-shift traffic stop.
2) Forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Rocky Gregory, mishandled and potentially contaminated the evidence bag used to store Holtzclaw’s uniform pants — the linchpin forensic evidence examined and tested by his mother-in-law.
As forensic expert Dr. Michael Spence noted in a sworn affidavit supporting Holtzclaw’s motion for an evidentiary hearing:
“At the June 18, 2014, interrogation of Officer Holtzclaw, investigators secured the uniform pants at about 6:00 p.m. At the beginning of this process, video footage showed Detective Gregory placing his bare hand into the evidence bag. The detective proceeded to push on the bottom of the bag — in order to fully open it. Officer Holtzclaw could then be seen handling his utility belt, his cell phone, his pockets, his wallet, and his keys — all prior to unclasping his belt, unzipping his fly, and removing his pants. In addition to the obvious DNA transfer issues associated with this order of events, both the belt and the pants collected from Officer Holtzclaw were placed in one bag. Consequently, these items were stored together, transported together, and remained together, until the moment that the lab analyst accessed the contents of the evidence bag.”
Forensic analyst Elaine Taylor compounded her son-in-law’s mishandling of the evidence bag by failing “to collect any ‘substrate control’ samples from either the uniform pants or the belt,” Spence reported. Moreover, Taylor incorrectly testified at trial that “no male DNA was found” on two inside areas of the fly of Holtzclaw’s uniform pants, contrary to what her bench notes revealed. Taylor then contradicted her own “inconclusive” assessment of the contributors to DNA mixtures on a swab from the outside of the pants’ fly and the two swabs from the inside. This bolstered Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger’s false assertion that female accuser Adaira Gardner’s DNA could only have arrived on the pants through transfer of vaginal secretions.
Taylor’s own sworn testimony at trial was that she failed to observe any staining, failed to conduct serological tests and failed to use an alternate light source or provide any other scientific support for Gieger’s brazenly unscientific claim.
3) Forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Rocky Gregory, was present during the search of Holtzclaw’s car in the wake of Ligons’ sexual assault allegation. All of the swabs taken from the car were submitted to the OCPD crime lab. In fact, when Elaine Taylor called Det. Davis to ask a question about the swabs, Det. Davis replied that she could not answer the questions because “I did not ask for those swabs to be taken.”
4) Forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Gregory, was one of six participants in a meeting at the Springlake Division before Holtzclaw was taken to headquarters to be questioned about the Ligons stop.
5) Forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Gregory, was involved with his supervisor, Lt. Timothy Muzny, in the process of preparing a photo lineup to show to accuser Ligons.
6) After Holtzclaw’s interrogation, forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Gregory, accompanied Holtzclaw to his home, where Det. Gregory failed to take key pieces of forensic evidence, including Holtzclaw’s underwear (which Det. Gregory incorrectly assumed had been washed) and other uniforms.
7) Richard Smith’s denial that the crime lab handled a “Holtzclaw case” is contradicted by the lab’s own assignment of just two case numbers — SD14-273 and SD14-399 — for all the evidence tested. Both lab case numbers list the defendant as “Holtzclaw, Daniel.” Lab case No. SD14-273 combined evidence from several accusers’ allegations under that one case, beginning with Ligons’ allegations and including DNA from nine other accusers (Terri Morris, Sherry Ellis, Florene Mathis, Carla Johnson, Rosetta Grate, Kala Lyles, Regina Copeland, Adaira Gardner and Syrita Bowen), as well as DNA from Holtzclaw and his then-girlfriend Kerri Hunt.
8) Forensic analyst Elaine Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Gregory, was one of 12 OCPD officials who executed a search warrant at 633 Culbertson Drive on Sept. 3, 2014, the residence where accuser Rosetta Grate alleged Holtzclaw assaulted her and where she alleged she had left DNA evidence on the back of a chair and on a towel she claimed she left in a bedroom closet. Taylor conducted testing on evidence collected at this scene where her son-in-law, who had earlier mishandled DNA evidence collection at Holtzclaw’s interrogation, was present.
Taylor’s test results showed that unknown male DNA from at least two males was found on chair samples from the front and back of the chair.
9) Det. Gregory was the lead detective investigating the sexual assault claims of accuser Terri Morris. He collected her buccal swabs during an interrogation at the Oklahoma County Jail and submitted her DNA to the crime lab as part of lab case No. SD14-273, which means that Det. Gregory was the head of a case for which he was directly submitting DNA evidence to his mother-in-law. His request to “test all swabs in this case for DNA analysis” was initialed by his mother-in-law.
10) Det. Gregory noted in one of his police reports on his investigation of Terri Morris’s allegations that her case and Ligons’ case were aggregated:
“Reference to all DNA involved in both cases 14-41539 (Morris) and 14-49050 (Ligons) they will be worked under 14-049050 since related. For further information see serology reports or Detective supplementals thereafter.”
In other words, Det. Gregory and Det. Davis, supervised by Lt. Muzny, consolidated the forensic evidence in the Morris and Ligons cases under 14-049050 (the case number assigned to Ligons’ incident) since they were both “related” to Holtzclaw. As described previously, the police submitted DNA from Ligons and nine other accusers under Ligons’ lab case No. SD14-273. Police incident number 14-49050 (Ligons’ case) is present on many evidence documents signed by Elaine Taylor (such as chain of custody forms for accusers’ buccal swabs). This means that Taylor was well aware that numerous alleged victims were involved in No. 14-049050 — not just Jannie Ligons.
In sum, Det. Gregory was actively and intimately involved in the Holtzclaw investigation from day one, including participating in a strategic meeting with higher-ups before Holtzclaw’s interrogation, conducting the interrogation with Det. Davis, overseeing the search of Holtzclaw’s vehicle, and participating in the formulation of a photo lineup for accuser Ligons (which Det. Davis nixed). Det. Gregory personally collected and directly submitted DNA evidence in the Holtzclaw case to his mother-in-law and participated in a raid of a home where more DNA evidence in the Holtzclaw case was collected and submitted to his mother-in-law.
At the crime lab, Elaine Taylor was fully aware that various accusers’ allegations and forensic items were consolidated together as part of the Holtzclaw case.
Taylor revealed her unscientific and unprofessional bias at trial when she testified that “unfortunately” Holtzclaw’s DNA was not found in the oral wash from accuser Ligons’ hospital rape exam. Based on his single, two-hour interrogation of Holtzclaw, Taylor’s son-in-law, Det. Gregory, deemed him a “psychopath.”
Taylor’s collaboration with the prosecution to emphasize that the DNA on Holtzclaw’s pants that she matched to accuser Adaira Gardner was most likely from vaginal fluid transfer “not only contradicted the scientific results,” according to Dr. Spence, but also “defied the logic that wearers typically leave DNA on their frequently used garments.” He further noted that the minuscule quantities of DNA mixtures found on Holtzclaw’s pants “were quite consistent with the expected transfer of epithelial skin cells during incidental handling events.”
As six independent scientists and forensic experts who released a public report on the flaws and failures of the OCPD crime lab, prosecution and defense counsel in Holtzclaw’s case noted, the presence of unknown male DNA in the mixture supports the valid, nonsexual explanation of how the DNA arrived on Holtzclaw’s pants: nonintimate skin cell DNA indirect transfer.
Yet, Taylor and Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger misled the jury on this point. And significantly, Det. Gregory publicly expressed his own similarly erroneous and unscientific views about transfer DNA.
When I asked him, “Is it possible that there is an innocuous and completely non-nefarious reason that the 17-year-old’s DNA was on his pants?” Det. Gregory replied, “No.”
When I asked him, “He couldn’t have gone to the bathroom, put his hands down there?” Det. Gregory replied, “No.”
How did Det. Gregory arrive at these views, and did he discuss them with Taylor?
Did it ever occur to either that the unknown male DNA on Holtzclaw’s pants might possibly belong to Det. Gregory?
Elaine Taylor’s and her son-in-law, Det. Gregory’s, shared bias against Holtzclaw and shared incorrect beliefs about the DNA evidence went unexamined at trial because the OCPD administration, despite being aware of their relationship, failed to disclose it to Holtzclaw’s defense counsel.
According to Smith, in response to a prior public records request that I filed in August 2017, the police department found zero emails between Taylor and Gregory regarding the Holtzclaw case — an amazing outcome given their familial ties and the high-profile nature of the case.
Shouldn’t other defendants and their lawyers in other criminal cases on which Taylor and Gregory worked together know about their family ties?
Shouldn’t the public know if their shoddy, biased work together produced other unjust convictions based on confirmation bias-driven investigations and faulty forensic evidence collection, testing, analysis and testimony?
Shouldn’t the public have immediate access to a full list of the cases on which this mother-in-law and son-in-law duo worked?
Through artifice and word games, the Oklahoma City Police Department hopes to deny the blindingly obvious: The failure to disclose OCPD crime lab analyst Elaine Taylor and Det. Rocky Gregory’s family connection undermined an accused man’s right to a fair trial and denied him the opportunity to expose bias, conflict and potential misconduct that could well have changed the outcome of the trial and the fate of Officer Daniel Holtzclaw.
Michelle Malkin is host of “Michelle Malkin Investigates” on CRTV.com.
COPYRIGHT 2017 CREATORS.COM