After 15 years of behind-the-scenes crime solving, the director of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s vaunted forensic crime laboratory retired Friday.
Demi Garvin, who established the sheriff’s lab in 2000 and guided its expansion, is replaced as lab director by Grayson Amick. Amick has worked in the lab for 11 years after working for more than a decade at the State Law Enforcement Division.
“We’ve built the lab around people, not around equipment,” Sheriff Leon Lott said in announcing the retirement of Garvin, who also spent 16 years in the SLED lab. “If you don’t have the best people to run that equipment, you’re not going to get results.”
Garvin said that some of the cases that have given her the most satisfaction to help solve are cases of serial crime, where forensic scientists are able to help identify patterns and piece together a puzzle of evidence. Their work not only helps identify the criminal, but also regularly exonerates suspects who did not commit crimes, Garvin said.
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The work has been exciting for Garvin, a self-described “adrenaline junkie” who finds forensics to be “never dull” and “very dynamic,” she said.
“No day is the same,” Garvin said. “I feel really blessed to have gotten up every day for 31 years and been excited about going to work. Fundamentally, when you have an opportunity to get paid for doing something that you love and you think you’re making a difference with, then it’s just wonderful.”
Prior to Garvin’s establishment of the Richland County crime lab, the sheriff’s department, like most law enforcement agencies in the state, relied on SLED’s lab to analyze forensic evidence.
“I had a vision or a goal that realized for us to be the best that we can be and solve crimes that needed to be solved and bring closure to victims,” Lott said. “We needed to be doing something a little bit different and better than what we’d been doing.”
Garvin was handpicked by Lott and has since grown the operation to a 32-person lab that, according to Lott, has identified more than 1,400 DNA hits from crime scenes in the past decade. The lab was the 15th in the nation and the first in South Carolina to receive international accreditation, Lott said.
The forensic lab’s work has been instrumental in solving crimes ranging from murders to sexual assaults to routine property crimes, Lott said. The forensic team’s work solved a “whodunnit” case of armed robbery and murder last month. The crimes, allegedly committed by two men Dec. 13 at the Spinx gas station on Lee Road, easily could have gone unsolved, he said. There were no connections between the suspects and the victims and no leads other than a vehicle description.
But a lab analysis of a DNA sample found on the victims’ car led to the identification of one suspect and the capture of both in Eutawville within days of the crime.
Cases like that are an example of what has made Garvin and the forensic lab invaluable to the sheriff’s department and to the public, the sheriff said.
“The best people have made us have the best lab,” Lott said.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.