AUSTIN, Texas -- With a name that sounds like futuristic fiction, Rapid DNA machines roughly the size of an office printer have helped solve rape cases in Kentucky, identified California wildfire victims and verified family connections of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Now a state board in Texas has asked a growing government provider of the DNA equipment used in those high-profile projects to halt work amid concerns of potentially jeopardized criminal cases, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
Texas is not the only place where the company, Longmont, Colorado-based ANDE, has come under scrutiny. Utah officials say they will likely no longer use Rapid DNA machines for sexual assault investigations, citing a higher degree of technical analysis required, but one case raised concerns about swabs taken from a victim. And when the Arizona Legislature this year considered creating a new statewide DNA database, ANDE helped draft the bill that included language excluding its only U.S. competitor, giving some lawmakers discomfort.
"Prosecutors are saying, 'You're screwing up our cases,'" said Lynn Garcia, general counsel of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
On Monday, the governor-appointed board sent a letter asking ANDE to "cease any project in Texas involving the use of its Rapid DNA technology" unless it goes through an accredited lab familiar with handling criminal evidence.
The commission says ANDE embarked on projects with police and a hospital in Houston without input from prosecutors, leaving them in the dark about evidence they're required to disclose to criminal suspects. That sent prosecutors scrambling to comply with a 2013 Texas law named after a man who wrongfully spent 25 years in prison after significant evidence in his case was withheld.
ANDE spokeswoman Annette Mattern disputed the accusations, saying law enforcement agencies bear the responsibility for evidence handling. She said no issues have been raised regarding ANDE's equipment.
Started in 2004, ANDE is becoming synonymous with Rapid DNA thanks to a run of high-profile projects, including a pilot program on the border with the U.S. government that ended in May. Voluntary cheek swabs were taken from some migrant adults and children to confirm family connections, amid worries by the Trump administration that some migrants were fraudulently posing as parents.
Mattern said the company's technology is "challenging norms" and suggested that some might be struggling to adjust.
"If there are procedural issues within the agencies, I'm not surprised because this is new," she said. "If there is confusion because one group says it has a protocol and another says, 'Well, it should be different,' those are good conversations to have. Make it better."
It has left ANDE facing criticism as the company -- one of just two manufacturers of Rapid DNA machines in the U.S. -- makes an aggressive push into police stations and labs nationwide.
Officials in Texas say they fear the company's actions are setting back a promising technology that has gotten a boost under President Donald Trump, who in 2017 signed the Rapid DNA Act that allows police stations to link machines to the nation's DNA database.