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February 18, 2015
Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Public Information Officer
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has distributed the attached notice to
defense attorneys and prosecutors informing them of an incident more than nine years
ago involving Timothy Schmahl, who has served as the Houston Forensic Science
Center’s Latent Print manager since May 2014. Prosecutors believe this letter is in
accordance with Texas’ Michael Morton Act that requires disclosures to defense
attorneys of information deemed potentially relevant to criminal prosecutions.
The incident noted in the letter began in 2005 when Schmahl was employed as a Latent
Print Examiner by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Science.
Schmahl compared photographs of a suspect’s fingerprint images found in records to
images of fingerprints found in the victim’s home. He also had fingerprint images of
other residents who lived with the victim. Using a new digital software, Schmahl
mislabeled the fingerprints. As a result, a fingerprint found on a rear door of the home
was reported as being the suspect’s, when in fact the fingerprint belonged to a relative
of the victim. The prints were correctly matched, but the names on the photographs
were incorrectly labeled. Schmahl caught the error prior to trial, and notified
prosecutors and other stakeholders that the print belonged to the victim’s daughter. The
suspect was released and the charges against him were dropped.
After a thorough investigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that
Schmahl handled “the discovery of his error with the utmost integrity.” The
investigation included a root-cause analysis of the incident, and changes were made to
procedures to ensure similar errors would not reoccur. The lab’s two accrediting
agencies agreed with the finding of the internal investigation and did not take action.
After leaving the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in 2008, Schmahl worked for the U.S.
Army’s Defense Forensic Science Center. Schmahl was a member of a deployable
operation that took the collection and analysis of forensic material to the battlefield. He
deployed three times to Afghanistan. During his first deployment, Schmahl was the
Lead Latent Print Examiner and helped establish a forensic lab in Kandahar. During
Schmahl’s last two deployments he served as a Laboratory Manager overseeing five
forensic disciplines. During almost six years with the Defense Forensic Science Center,
Schmahl was awarded two Achievement Medals for Civilian Service, two
Commander’s Awards for Civilian Service, three Secretary of Defense Medals for the
Global War on Terror, two Non-Article 5 NATO Medals, one Superior Civilian Service
Award and was selected as the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division
Command’s Civilian of the Year in 2012.
In Schmahl’s nine months with the Center, he has built a team of Latent Print Examiners
certified by the International Association for Identification. This group has replaced an
expensive outsource contract that previously provided services to the Houston Police
Department. The team is providing quality, efficient services to police and other
agencies. Schmahl has also started the process of digitizing the lab, while working
closely with HFSC’s expanded Quality Division.
“Tim Schmahl is providing excellent leadership and experience to HFSC’s Latent Print
Section. We are excited to see what lies ahead for the Section,” said HFSC CEO and
President Daniel Garner.
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