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Exclusive: CFO Jeff Atwater talks to the I-Team about arson lab's accreditation loss

Posted: 6:55 PM, Sep 22, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-22 22:58:19Z

There's been a huge credibility blow to the state's arson lab after it lost it's accreditation. 

Now attorneys all over the state are questioning gasoline samples that came from CFO Jeff Atwater's lab. While Atwater admits there are some things to correct, he stands by his labs methods.

"It's a real issue for Florida. The public should expect that an accreditation process though not required by law is the right thing to do." says Atwater.

CFO Jeff Atwater is in charge of state's arson lab (Florida Division of Investigative and Forensic Services, Bureau of Forensic Services) near Tallahassee, which tests samples of fire debris from across the state. 

The I-Team was first to reveal that lab lost it's accreditation after the accreditation agency, ASCLD/Lab, found serious concerns with the way the lab was testing for gasoline.

MORE: Florida's arson lab loses accreditation, wrongful charges a main concern

After randomly selecting 26 cases of gasoline testing, they found accuracy concerns with 14 of them.

Atwater stands by his labs testing methods but does believe there was a problem with properly documenting their testing methods.

"Which is necessary and it's going to be important in any type of review process, so we think we've got things to improve upon." he adds.

Watch entire interview below: 

 

John Lentini has been in the arson investigation industry since the 70's.  He filed the initial complaint. He says there is a problem with the way they're testing gasoline.

He tells us, "And as a result they find gasoline where gas doesn't exist and that ruins peoples lives." "They don't follow any written procedure."

Lentini says he's worked on 5 cases where arson charges were dropped because of improper gasoline testing.

MORE: Florida's arson lab loses accreditation again

Reporter: "Can you stand here today and tell our viewers that no case has ever been impacted by improper testing of gasoline out of your lab?"  
Atwater: "I don't think...I've been in the role for a few years. What I'm looking at at this moment is I still have confidence that the conclusions that have been drawn by our lab have been quality conclusions. I don't think...I think it would be a stretch for anybody to say i don't think any error has ever been made by any lab in Florida or me saying that about our lab."

Atwater spent about $34 thousand to have an independent lab review their work. That independent study sides with Atwater.  

But an appeals board with the accreditation agency is still upholding their suspension even after reviewing the study and letters of appeal.

Reporter: "So who's to blame here and should someone resign over this?"
Atwater: "...I take it personally responsible for where we're at and when it's done when they come back and look at us again i think we'll have to look at some of those questions." 

Atwater believes they can make the appropriate changes in the next 30 days. He says the accreditation agency will then come back for an on site visit.

Watch initial story below: