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CSI waiting on new laboratory facility
CSI moves 3 es
A box to be taken to evidence sits under a table inside the temporary Forsyth County Sheriff’s CSI lab. - photo by Emily Saunders

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* Other sheriff's units are relocating.

One critical unit of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office still doesn’t have a permanent home.

The sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division annex and the Crime Scene Investigations building were vacated in February following employee reports of “sick building syndrome.”

As a result, the employees who worked in the annex were relocated to the north and south precincts and the CSI lab could no longer be used for processing evidence.

The employees, who include homicide, sex crime and robbery investigators, are moving this week into an office building at 475 Tribble Gap Road, north of downtown Cumming.

Sheriff Ted Paxton’s office also is being moved to the building, as well as internal affairs and administrative personnel.

Meanwhile, crime scene technicians have had to make do using a vehicle processing lab next to the north precinct off Keith Bridge Road.

Compounding the situation, the work they can perform there is limited.

Paxton is waiting to hear back from county officials on the status of a facility for the crime scene unit. He said the last plan he knew of was to buy a modular building and set it up near the north precinct.

County Manager Doug Derrer said the county is still evaluating its options.

“We continue to work to ensure a safe working environment for employees,” Derrer said.

In the meantime, Paxton said, the technicians will continue to use their offices in the CID main building, which also must be abandoned.

“There is no place for them to move,” he said. “So they’re going to have to remain there until we get that issue resolved. It certainly is impacting the efficiency of the sheriff’s office.

“Right now we’re OK, but it’s not going to be much longer that we are going to have an impact in the cases in the courtroom because we’re not right now properly equipped to be able to process that evidence.”

Katrina Murdock, the crime scene unit’s supervisor, said the current conditions mean evidence often has to be shuffled from the vehicle lab, about the size of a small storage space, to the unit’s offices in the main CID building and sometimes back to the lab for more processing.

She said some of the unit’s equipment is in storage until a new facility is available.

Murdock also said the unit is unable to use chemicals needed for processing certain types of evidence because the chemicals are hazardous and require a fuming hood for ventilation.

She said evidence can’t be stored at the lab. Plus, while technicians are working, they must be mindful to save enough space in case a vehicle comes in.

The vehicle lab also has no bathrooms and isn’t climate-controlled.

The temperature in the lab reached 93 degrees Tuesday afternoon, Murdock said. Opening the lab’s garage door to keep it cool isn’t an option because doing so could compromise the evidence.

Paxton said the situation could soon create some fallout with the district attorney’s office.

“Not only is that unfair to the state, it’s not fair to the defendant,” Paxton said. “At that point, we are certainly concerned about the defendant’s right to a speedy trial and resolution of the charges over there.

“If we’re being hung up by our lack of lab facilities, then it’s not fair to them either.”

District Attorney Penny Penn could not be reached for comment.

Paxton said sending evidence to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations crime labs for processing isn’t a solution.

“They are seriously backlogged themselves and for them to have to take over the overflow from stuff we can’t do, it’s just going to add more to the problem,” he said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “sick building syndrome” appears to be linked to time spent in facilities.

Symptoms include headache, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, itchy skin, dizziness and nausea. The symptoms can surface after exposure to inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor and outdoor sources and biological contaminants.

According to the EPA, the symptoms subside in most patients after they leave the contaminated building.

The vacated sheriff’s buildings, which are on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, date back to the 1950s and ’60s. Problems include sewer backups, rodents and improper ventilation.

In November, voters rejected a $16 million bond, with a 20-year repayment schedule, that would have paid for a new 51,000-square-foot sheriff’s headquarters.

Voters also rejected a plan to build a 226,000-square-foot jail with 480 beds through a $75 million bond.

It was the fourth time in eight years that a proposal to build a new detention center failed.

E-mail Julie Arrington at juliearrington@forsythnews.