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Irvine Police Admit 'Mishap' in Tainted Baby-Food Incidents

It 'won't happen again,' the department says of the delay in testing the ricin-poisoned jars.

August 05, 2004|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Irvine police acknowledged Wednesday that the department waited three weeks before sending jars of tampered baby food to the Food and Drug Administration to check for contamination, a delay that has forced the department to change its procedures.

"There was an unacceptable delay largely because there were a lot of agencies involved, and that may have caused some miscommunication," said Irvine Police Lt. Jeff Love. "But that is no excuse. The chief is very displeased, and he has put some strict systems in place. I guarantee you this kind of mishap won't happen again."

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran said the city manager will give him details today.

The FDA found that the jars of Gerber's Banana Yogurt Dessert had been poisoned with mashed castor bean, which contains trace amounts of the deadly poison ricin.

The first tampering was discovered May 31 after an Irvine couple fed their 9-month-old daughter a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt they had purchased at a Ralphs supermarket in Irvine. They found a cellophane-wrapped note inside the jar saying it had been poisoned and that the person eating the food would die. It also implied that an Irvine police officer had planted the note.

A second note was discovered June 16 as an Irvine man was cleaning a baby food jar after feeding his 11-month-old son. No contents remained to test. Police found a third note in an unopened jar in the family's pantry. The father had purchased the yogurt from the same Ralphs as the first family. Neither baby became sick.

The Sheriff's Department and Irvine police disagree on when the sheriff's crime lab received the jars for testing and when they were returned to Irvine police. Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said the Sheriff's Department crime lab received the jars June 17 and returned them to Irvine police July 2, after they were tested for DNA and fingerprints. He said the lab does not test for food contamination.

Love said Irvine police sent the first jar to the sheriff's crime lab June 2, and it was returned June 3.

Irvine police kept the jars from both incidents in an evidence locker and failed to send the jars to the FDA for poison testing until June 25, Love said, nearly four weeks after the discovery of the first tampering. Love declined to say what new procedures had been established or if anyone was reprimanded.

Irvine detectives and district attorney's investigators have questioned Charles Dewey Cage, 47, who last lived in Irvine. He worked as a stocker at another Ralphs in Irvine during the supermarket strike that ended in February.

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