By Brian Maass and Mark Ackerman
DENVER (CBS4)– A former lab worker at the Colorado Department of Health is blowing the whistle, telling CBS4 his signature was repeatedly forged so the State of Colorado could rush hundreds of DUI breath testing machines into service.
As a result, the Colorado Defense Bar has asked Gov. John Hickenlooper to intervene by ordering an independent investigation into the certifications of the Intoxilyzer 9000, the devices that test for breath alcohol levels in drunk driving suspects.
Mike Barnhill was an electronics technician at the Colorado Department of Health for five years. He now considers himself a whistleblower.
Barnhill said when those machines were first put into service in 2013, there was such deadline pressure, that they were certified as accurate by untrained civilians, who didn’t work for the Colorado Department of Health. Barnhill said his signatures were repeatedly forged on official forms, falsely certifying that as many as 150 of the machines were accurate and calibrated, and had been certified by Barnhill.
“Somebody else did this and then signed my name,” said Barnhill who claims forged signatures allowed the vast majority of these machines to go into service.
Barnhill said it would have been impossible for him to have certified all 162 machines in the short amount of time allotted before the intoxylizers were put into service, so corners were cut.
“I didn’t agree with that but you go along with it,“ he said. “I felt uncomfortable with it.”
The Colorado Department of Health isn’t talking about what CBS4 found saying the issues could soon come up in court cases.
However, in a court hearing last month, CDPHE lab director Jeff Groff was directly asked if he directed employees to sign Barnhill’s name during the certification process.
According to court transcripts Groff responded, “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we were operating under one technician’s ID initially until ours were put in. The final EBAT that is performed which is one of the last steps in the test process was always signed by the technician whose ID it was.”
DUI attorney Danny Luneau called the certification process described by Barnhill, “100 percent fraudulent”.
He said the forged signatures from 2013 certifying the Intoxilyzer 9000 machines cast a shadow on breath tests in DUI cases.
“Because what’s going to happen now, because of these fraudulent signatures, every person who’s charged with DUI and had a breath test is going to bring this up and every jury is going to know they are fraudulent,” he said. “That’s going to create a reasonable doubt so you’re going to have guilty people found not guilty because of this issue, because of fraud.”
CBS4 found other questionable practices in the Department of Health DUI testing program. Dr. Laura Gillim-Ross was the lab director, but left in July, 2015. But long after she left, the State continued to produce certificates suggesting she still worked for them and was approving the use of Intoxilyzer machines.
“You have a certificate here that wasn’t actually signed by this person and was not even working there when this certificate was issued,” said Luneau.
In previous court testimony, Groff essentially called Laura Gillim-Ross’s signature issue irrelevant and inconsequential and said removing her signature from the Intoxilyzer machine would happen during the next firmware update from the machine’s manufacturer.
Intoxylizer 9000 machines are certified every year.