Washington, D.C. — The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) today announced the completion of a successful two-week mission to assist the Puerto Rico Bureau of Forensic Science (BFS), also known as Negociado de Ciencias Forenses. The mission, which was conducted between April 21 and May 3, 2019, was the most recent effort by the Puerto Rico Forensic Science Project, which began in April 2018.
More than 28 volunteers, including forensic pathologists, forensic anthropologists, forensic scientists, state attorneys general, and NAAG staff, conducted the following efforts during this mission:
- Three volunteer forensic anthropologists examined a total of 58 cases, and determined that 34 were of forensic significance, 17 were from cemeteries, and seven were non-human.
- Seven forensic pathologists, assisted by eight volunteer forensic pathology technicians and administrative assistants, examined a total of 122 bodies, including 102 autopsies and 20 external examinations. More than 20 of these bodies have been released to, or are in the process of being released to, their loved ones.
- DNA from the unidentified remains and bodies were and will be analyzed in an effort to make identifications.
- One forensic anthropologist and two forensic pathologists engaged in assessments of the operations of the medical examiner’s office and will be providing analysis of their findings to the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, which has oversight over BFS.
- Current and incoming ASCLD presidents engaged in assessments of the laboratory’s operational and quality processes.
- Two state attorneys general met with federal and territorial leaders regarding the challenges facing the lab and other agencies involved in public safety.
In addition to NAAG and ASCLD, the mission’s organizational partners included the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA), the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, chair of the NAAG Mission Foundation and one of the co-leads in this Project, said “Our most recent efforts in Puerto Rico were very productive and I’m proud of what our coalition is accomplishing. Together, this diverse group of experts is laying the groundwork for substantive changes that will have positive effects on the Puerto Rican justice system for years to come.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, vice chair of the NAAG Mission Foundation and the other Project co-lead, said, “My colleagues and I are proud to partner with the Puerto Rico government and others to support public safety efforts following the devastating loss of resources from Hurricane Maria.”
ASCLD President Matthew Gamette said, “It has been an honor for our organization to partner with other forensic organizations to bring the best forensic practitioners and leaders from all over the United States to help the amazing people of Puerto Rico. It is inspiring to watch our team of volunteers work side-by-side with BFS employees, to learn that families are being reunited with their deceased loved ones, and to continue helping our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.”
Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice Wanda Vázquez Garced said, “We are extremely grateful for NAAG and ASCLD’s assistance. They have been able to bring personnel, technological resources and training for the Bureau of Forensic Science that already have caused a significant impact in our cases. They have been able to connect our law enforcement agencies with scientific tools and resources that assists us to complete and resolve pending cases and to establish the foundation to improve in our collaborative efforts to resolve backlogs and other investigations. We look forward to continue to work in collaboration with NAAG and ASCLD to improve the BFS’s capacity to perform their ultimate task of using science in the best interest of justice.”
Secretary of Public Safety Elmer Roman added, “The contribution of these entities with the Department has been extremely important for the stabilization of the Bureau and for cases that potentially have their legal course. The joint and liaison work provided by the local Justice Department to achieve this project has an unprecedented impact. We will continue combining efforts and making these alternatives available in order to enhance the service for the benefit of all.”
Dr. Beatriz Zayas, BFS Commissioner said, “This mission to assist BFS has provided us with highly needed help. The commitment of ASCLD and NAAG to assist Puerto Rico is clear and we will forever be in debt to all the pathologists and anthropologists that volunteered their time to provide aid to those families in Puerto Rico awaiting their dead loved ones.”
NAAG Executive Director Chris Toth said, “The Puerto Rico Forensic Science Project aligns with NAAG’s mission of fostering local, state, and federal engagement, cooperation, and communication on legal and law enforcement issues. We welcome the opportunity to assist one of our members, and we are grateful for our partnership with ASCLD and the leadership of Generals Wasden and Healey on this project.”
The NAAG and ASCLD team will continue its work evaluating infrastructure and instrument needs, and assisting state and federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers, as well as BFS personnel, in developing prioritization plans for evidence testing by the BFS that reflect the public safety needs of Puerto Rico.
NAAG and ASCLD wish to thank the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), ABFA, NAME, ASCP, and our other partners, and welcome the opportunity to continue working with these and other organizations and governments on this Project.
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