Team of forensic scientists handle the state's most complicated shooting investigations


They're an elite group of forensic scientists whom police across the state call every time they need guns, bullets, or casings processed as evidence.

No case is ever the same, no week ever goes as planned.

"When you're coming in after a busy weekend, you don't know what you're going to get on a Monday," said OSP Forensic Scientist Travis Gover.

The unexpected, is a constant the forensic scientists at the Oregon State Police Crime Lab in Clackamas can count on.

"There's no formula for how quickly cases go," said OSP Forensic Scientist Leland Samuelson

The two shoulder all of Oregon's shooting investigations in their own lab, with help from just two other colleagues.

"Right now there's a back log of 150 - 200 cases, or requests at least," said Gover.

That means any sort of ballistic evidence, or gun gathered at crimes scene across the state is processed through them. And unlike popular cop shows on TV, a real case can take weeks, or even months to finish.

"Sometimes when you have a case large downtown, there's a drive-by shooting and there's 40 cases and four guns and they all come in and the officers are like, 'hey, which gun was used, and can you tell from the bullets which one was fatal bullet?'" said Samuelson.

It's up to them to link bullets to guns and guns to people. To do that, sometimes all they need is a microscope.

"I can put an unknown say from Powell Street and one versus somewhere in St. Johns and put them side-by-side," said Samuelson. "By comparing them back and forth I can narrow down the type of gun they came from and know if the same gun fired this cartridge."

Sometimes it requires them to get creative. Shooting into a water tank is one way they're able to preserve samples of bullets without damaging them so they can be tested.

They even have ways of restoring obliterated serial numbers off guns.

Whatever it is they find, they upload into an integrated ballistics ID system. The database stores images from crime scenes across the Pacific Northwest.

"We put two, or 3 cartridges into the system and let it do its coronation to server so we can do comparison here," said Gover. "If it hits to something we put out what we call an unconfirmed hit report and we give that out to investigators."

They try to keep the back story of the case out of it. Though, sometimes it's tough.

"Often, there are cases where truly an innocent bystander is an innocent victim to crime," said Samuelson.

They say the shooting of Asia Bell was one of those cases.

"She was shot in her front yard, a mistaken target of a gang shooting, and we were able to solve the crime using the ballistics data base and we matched it to a shooting we didn't know," said Samuelson. "It was a cold case that hit to each other and it lead to quite a few prosecutions in that case."

And that's what they do it for, justice.

"It feels good that part," he added.

Not just for the victims, they say, but also to exonerate the wrongfully accused.

"Some cases, you've closed up that little piece that helped with the trial and you get satisfaction that you've helped out the process," said Gover.

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