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DNA lab concerns test Travillion’s patience

Thursday, July 20, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion put his passion on display Tuesday when he stormed off the dais during a discussion of the Austin Police Department’s shuttered DNA lab.

Travillion had attempted to ask a question early on in the briefing but County Judge Sarah Eckhardt shut him down, citing the length of the presentation ahead of the court.

“Hold the questions,” Eckhardt told Travillion. “I know it’s frustrating.”

The Precinct 1 commissioner responded with clear agitation, “It’s really frustrating because this is a significant thing that I’ve been talking about a long damn time.”

Talking over him, Eckhardt insisted on her privilege to control the meeting.

At that point, Travillion stood up, walked off the dais, and out of the room.

Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox continued with his detailed presentation that updated the court on the latest steps a multi-jurisdiction working group of stakeholders has taken to deal with the fallout from the DNA lab’s closure last year following an audit that revealed improper forensic procedures.

Travillion returned by the end of the presentation and, when Eckhardt opened the floor for comments, immediately apologized to his colleagues, the speakers before the court and the audience.

“This is very personal for me because, while I work for the county, I represent the people that are most impacted here today,” Travillion explained. “And I’m concerned that from the word ‘go’ there’s been some glaring oversights and flaws in the process.”

He argued that one of those oversights is the lack of participation by any civil rights advocacy groups in the review of the cases that have been affected by the DNA lab’s failure.

“I see improvement and I appreciate the improvement that has been made. But it’s just not there yet. And the part that is missing is the groups that represent the most impoverished in this community, who are most impacted by this system,” Travillion said.

A conciliatory Eckhardt asked Travillion to compile a list of the groups he would like to see potentially included in an expanded version of the stakeholders’ group, a request that Travillion agreed to meet.

Photo by University of Michigan made available under a Creative Commons license.

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