Morgan Hays may have fallen into law enforcement by accident, but the supervisor of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Latent Print section at the Jacksonville Regional Operations Center grabbed the job by the horns and made a name for himself in the forensics world. In this first interview of our new series, we took time to ask Hays a few questions about forensics, life as an investigator, and his opinion on both serious and light-hearted topics.
Q. Why law enforcement, investigation, and latent prints?
A. I did not intend for this to be my career. I stumbled into it, but as it turns out, law enforcement is in my blood. I'm a fourth generation member of law enforcement: My great-grandfather was sheriff of my home county (Montgomery Co, KY), my grandfather was police chief of my hometown (Mount Sterling, KY), and my mom worked as a 911 dispatcher for two agencies here in Florida (Tavares PD and Eustis PD). So I guess I was destined for it, whether I realized it or not.
But as far as me stumbling into this, I had received my Bachelors in Anthropology and went to work in New Orleans as an archaeologist. I spent a year doing that, digging all over the southeastern US, before going back to get my Master's degree at Florida State University. While back in Tallahassee, I was applying for any job I could find, and some place called FDLE pulled me in for an interview. 16+ years later, it's all history now.
Q. What has been your most interesting case?
A. Many of my students will know this, but the case I perhaps talk about the most is one that carried a very important lesson for me as a young latent print examiner. The case came in with a single digital image of a nasty distorted print and 27 latent lift cards from a Toyota Camry on a death investigation. I looked at the digital image and the print was obviously in blood, smeared, smudged, nasty. I quickly dismissed it and went to the latent lifts. At the time my agency had a "One ID and Stop" policy in an effort to reduce backlogs. So I effected one ID on the lift cards and sent the report out the door without having really examined any of the other evidence.
The report got back to the grizzled, veteran detective who proceeded to call me every name in the book. He called my agency back up and demanded I look at the bloody print in the digital image. Full of arrogance and ego, I told him to resubmit that garbage print, and I was going to report it as no value. He resubmitted it, and I began examining the print. I started to see things in it - details like ridge flow, minutia, etc. I called up the agency, and they obtained better palm print standards for me.
Using the knowledge and techniques taught to me by my mentor, Jennie Ahern, I was able to identify the third joint of the subject's right ring finger. To this day that is still my only case where I had the subject's print, in the victim's blood, on the murder weapon. It was a lot of humble pie for me. And the lesson I learned was to never rush to judgment, to take my time and work through every print because you never know what you may find. I teach that print to almost all of my students every time I instruct as a valuable, and humbling, lesson.
Q. Why did your team win the Missing Children's Day Law Enforcement Task Force/Team of the Year?
A. I was working for FDLE Orlando in mid 2009 when we were called in on a Sunday afternoon to compare a latent print from evidence at a point of entry where a man had entered a home, abducted a little girl from her bedroom, took her to the garage where he bound her and was about to sexually assault her. Somehow, she managed to slip her bonds, escape, and alert her parents who chased the man out of the home.
Through discovery of his type of vehicle and the beer cans that were left at the window point of entry, local law enforcement was able to scour grocery story surveillance cameras and find the man purchasing the beer from a nearby grocery store on surveillance video. Once they had that, combined with the vehicle, they were able to locate a subject.
I came in to help identify a latent print from one of the beer cans found under the window outside of the family's home. Once I had verified the ID, the surveillance team, who was sitting on his house, was able to quickly make an arrest. It all happened extremely fast as the arresting agency was literally on the phone waiting for an answer. We took our time and we got it right. Afterwards he confessed to other sexual assaults of little girls in the Orlando area. We were invited to Tallahassee where we got a tour of the capital building and did a meet & greet with Governor Charlie Crist and a photo op.
Q. One item you couldn't do your job without?
A. My stereomicroscope. I use that to compare all of my latent prints, and I have used the same scope since I began working in latents in 2004. If I leave my agency, I think I'll try to take it with me!
Q. Which is more difficult: processing latent prints on porous or nonporous surfaces and why?
A. Hmmm, this is a tough one. Both can pose challenges. Some non-porous surfaces can be reflective like mirrors and compact discs. Those can be tough to work with. But porous items can be fragile and not withstand the chemical processing well. So you could end up destroying your evidence and not recover any latent prints. I don't know, can I say both?
Q. Favorite course to teach and why?
A. The palm print course. The reaction I get from students when they first start seeing the exercises and then what their reaction is by the time they get to the final exercise is amazing. As an instructor it's one of the few times you can literally see the light bulb going on for the students. I have had so many come up afterwards and thank me for giving them the roadmap to palm prints.
Q. Best tip(s) for passing certification exams?
A. Organize your latent prints into fingers, palms, and joints of fingers and then begin work on your comparisons first to give yourself the most time there.
Q. A fact that might surprise people about latent prints?
A. Koala bears are the only non-primate with friction ridge skin.
Q. Is collecting latent prints becoming obsolete?
A. No, never. It's a faster and cheaper identification/elimination process than DNA, and identical twins and chimeras will always complicate DNA examinations.
Q. If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning a medal for?
A. Getting in the slowest checkout line at any grocery or retail store. I will win gold every time; no competition.
Morgan Hays is a veteran Tri-Tech Forensics Training instructor. His courses include:
Ever wonder what other forensic professionals are thinking? Our new interview series will feature men and women making a mark in the world of investigation, from latent prints to DNA collection to crime scene investigations. Once a month, we'll share the thoughts and stories of another expert. Don't miss one; sign up for our newsletter for previews and links to the full interview. And let us know who you'd like to hear from!
In the late 1990s, Tom Hill was a detective at the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department and Stewart Mosher was a crime scene supervisor at the nearby Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Tom and Stewart were good friends and would often compare notes on the scenes to which they responded. South Florida was famous for its violent, often bloody crime scenes, particularly beginning in the 1980s. The two were always looking for ways in which they could improve the results they received when processing these scenes.
Being a footwear examiner, Tom was interested in recovering footwear evidence from these scenes and began experimenting with chemical processing to visualize and collect latent footwear and bare footprint evidence. He shared these innovative techniques with Stewart. The two combined this material with techniques on mapping bloodstain patterns and other useful processes used in the investigation of bloody crime scenes, and by the year 2000 they had developed the Documentation and Enhancement of Bloody Crime Scenes course.
Originally, the course was available only in South Florida, but this year Tom and Stewart brought the course to Tri-Tech Forensics. The course was held earlier this year and is scheduled twice in 2019, in South Florida, and in Denver, Colorado. If you are called upon to process bloody crime scenes, you should consider attending this four-day course. Tom Hill says of those who have not taken the course, “These investigators don’t know what they’re missing…”
Check out the Upcoming Courses page for more course information.
What are the signs of ritualistic and occult crimes? Do you know how to read this type of evidence? Join our Ritualist and Occult Crimes course to learn from one of the world’s most learned experts on this subject, Dr. Dawn Perlmutter. Often speaking to standing-room-only audiences, Dr. Perlmutter is offering her hands-on training this November 13 – 16, 2018. A limited number of spaces are available. Please contact us to reserve your seat.
If you are not able to make the training this time but are still interested in the subject and want to learn more, check out the article on our Online Articles page. While graphic, it includes many explanations, definitions, and examples that will enable the investigator to see the evidence with new understanding.
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