Scores of felons, some convicted of dangerous and assaultive crimes, have failed to have their DNA samples collected by city and county law enforcement, a 7 Action News investigation has found.
The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office calls it a “systemic problem” that could make solving violent crimes in Michigan more difficult.
“We didn’t quite honestly know there was a problem upfront until this story game to light,” said Undersheriff Dan Pfannes. “My fear is anyone has the potential for being involved in some crime that could be solved through DNA."
In Michigan, felons are required to submit a sample of their DNA at the time of arrest or once they’re convicted. The sample is entered into the state’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, and run against DNA collected from any past crimes that remain unsolved.
DNA swabs have helped solve scores of rape cases that had gone cold and also proved pivotal in solving murder cases.
The 2017 slaying of limo driver Devin Lowe, shot and killed in Detroit, was solved by matching the killer's DNA with a sample already in CODIS. Detectives were able to recover a cigarette butt found at the scene, matching it with the DNA profile of Deandre Austin, who submitted a sample years earlier from a prior conviction.
But in Wayne County, not every convicted criminal is being swabbed. A source inside Third Circuit Court told 7 Action News that some criminals were slipping through without ever turning over a sample to police.
Over a five-month period, 7 Action News matched names of jail inmates with samples in the CODIS database. The findings revealed that, between January and May of last year, 91 convicted criminals failed to have their DNA samples taken by police throughout Wayne County.
Many of those with missing samples were convicted of dangerous crimes, like Daniel Jackson-Douglas. In 2016, he was charged with assault with intent to murder. His victim said he stabbed him twice in the chest and told him to “die slow.” Jackson-Douglas was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, sentenced to a year in jail.
State Senator Rick Jones helped change the law that required all felons in Michigan to submit their DNA.
“There’s no excuse,” Jones said. “It’s shocking that somebody could be walking around who’s a serial killer or a repeat rapist and somebody didn’t do their job... take a swab, send in the DNA and make sure that that criminal would be taken off the street.”
In response to our findings, Wayne County Undersheriff Dan Pfannes quickly ordered staff to determine the scope of the problem. He said he plans to have staff search back the last three years to determine what other samples were missed.
“Anyone that we don’t catch bothers me,” Pfannes said. "Anyone that we don’t sample bothers me.”
“How did these guys fall through the cracks?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“I think there was a lot of people, whether it was my people, any other entity that’s out there, that may have been thinking: ‘Oh, someone else does that,’ ” Pfannes said.
For years, only sheriff’s deputies were in charge of collecting DNA upon conviction. But starting in July 2015, the law expanded, allowing local officers to take sample upon arrest.
Pfannes says his deputies may have assumed a sample had already been taken, when it really hadn’t.
The Wayne County Sheriff's Office confirms they are working with county judges and officials with the Michigan Department of Corrections to make long-term fixes going forward.
In response to our investigation, Wayne County Presiding Criminal Judge Timothy Kenny ordered that, going forward, all judges order DNA sample collections from every felon convicted in their courtroom, regardless of whether they believe a sample is already on file.
“No police chief, no police officers want to fumble the ball on something like this,” Judge Kenny said.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.