Forensic Teacher: I was wondering; tell me a little bit about yourself and your job.

Joe Matvay: I recently retired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department after 35 years. I am still involved in forensics - that is by teaching and by consulting.

FT: I understand. Still, so you ran the entire Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Forensics Unit?

JM: Well, no, not the whole section. I was a CSA supervisor or crime scene analyst supervisor. We could also say a crime scene investigation supervisor. There were other supervisors, but I had a squad of CSIs that reported to me.

FT: That sounds like a lot of fun.

JM: It was, and it was very interesting, very intriguing, and very rewarding.

FT: You and your people worked the day shift?—Just 8-5 or 9 -5?

JM: No, I pretty much worked all the shifts. Actually, when I retired, I was on graveyard, but for many years before that I was on swing shift.

FT: Wow. Now, if you are on graveyard, do you — are you on call if there is nothing pending or does the lab keep running 24/7?

JM: In Las Vegas, and it does vary from agency to agency, we have about 50 crime scene investigators. We are a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week, 365-day a year outfit. There is obviously, crime going on at all hours. That is why we were always staffed. However, there were times when I was on-call - all of the supervisors there had to take turns being on-call.

FT: I see. Tell us a little bit about your background.

JM: I started 35 years ago and I have a bachelor of science degree in biology. Over the course of my career, I got certified in various forensic disciplines. I am certified at the highest level in the crime scene discipline from the International Association for Identification. I am also a certified latent print examiner, so I spent some of my career working as a fingerprint expert. I am also certified as a bloodstain pattern examiner.

FT: You were busy.

JM: Well, you have to be to keep pace with the progress. I love all the various forensic disciplines, so I studied hard to try and be top of my game in all of them.

FT: What were you hired as initially?

JM: Well, way, way back then, the position was called identification specialist, but the title changed over the years and the title is now called crime scene analyst.

FT: Ah, okay. So, now do crime scene analysts have to be good at everything or do you have print people or DNA people or trace people who are also analysts?

JM: The most important aspect of any forensic investigation is clearly, without a doubt, the crime scene investigation. It’s at the crime scene that the physical evidence exists. So, you really have to be knowledgeable about all of the forensic disciplines in order to be a good crime scene investigator. You need to be able to recognize and identify and gather and preserve and analyze the evidence from the crime scene in order to solve the case. Again, the crime scene investigation is paramount. You only have one chance to do the investigation properly. And if you miss one thing it’s probably gone forever.

FT: Oh yeah.

JM: Now, that’s no disrespect to the other forensic disciplines, which are more laboratory-based such as DNA. They need special labs for DNA and it is very, very important. I love DNA because it helps us solve crimes.

FT: Absolutely.

JM: But the key is the crime scene. Some of the other disciplines in forensics are DNA, latent prints, footwear and tire tracks, trace evidence, questioned document examination, etc. They are all important because they all do what we are trying to do, and that is to identify the perpetrator and link the perpetrator to the crime scene. And that is what we are basically trying to do with the crime scene investigation. I mean, there are a lot of different functions for crime scene investigations, but the main thing is to identify the bad guy and link the bad guy to the scene or the victim.

FT: How compartmentalized is the forensics investigation unit in Las Vegas? And by that I mean, is it the job of one person to oversee prints and firearms and DNA and trace and then put them all together and look at how they are going? Or does the guy in trace talk to the ballistics guy, talk to the DNA guy, then they go to supervisor and say this is what we think it is?

JM: Well, it kind of depends. Let me tell you a little bit about Las Vegas Metro Police. We have a total of about 5,000 employees, and we are the ninth largest police agency in the country. I have to say that I’m more than a little biased, but we’re pretty darn good at what we do.

FT: Yes.

JM: Depending on the type of case - let’s just say it is a homicide because that is usually the most serious crime we investigate at the police level. With any homicide investigation, this is how we did it in Las Vegas. There would be a group of homicide detectives and a supervisor from a particular squad that would respond. There would also be a group of crime scene investigators from a particular squad that would respond - so there would usually be at least two crime scene investigators and a supervisor.

FT: Right.

JM: We work hand in hand. We work in conjunction with each other because we are all trying to do the same thing and that is to solve the case.

FT: Good.

JM: So the crime scene investigators, their job is to investigate the scene. The homicide investigators, their job is to try and gather information from interviews and interrogations. What I would do is communicate whatever we found, and by we I’m talking about the crime scene investigators, whenever we found anything of significance, I would immediately report that to homicide so that they would have that information.

FT: Okay.

JM: If they found anything of significance from their interviews, they would report it to us, communication is critical, so that two-way communication really helped to solve our cases. When the scene was all done, the evidence would be analyzed in the forensic lab by the respective section that was applicable. We had a latent print section and we of course had a DNA section. We had a firearms and tool marks section, and trace evidence and toxicology and a controlled substance section.

FT: Okay.

JM: Forensic scientists would analyze the evidence and then it would be reported back so that we were all aware of what information was discerned. Does that make sense?

FT: Yes, it does. And I have couple of more questions about that specific topic. What about autopsies, was the pathology lab, the morgue, was it onsite?

JM: No. In Las Vegas, there is a separate entity and that is the Clark County Coroner and Medical Examiner’s Office. With respect to that particular entity, they have forensic pathologists who would perform the actual autopsy on the body of the decedent. There are assistants there that assist the forensic pathologist. During the autopsy procedure, there would also be a crime scene investigator there, and there would also be a homicide investigator. That’s how we work it in Las Vegas.

FT: Absolutely.

JM: Now, if samples were taken from the body, I am talking about blood, urine, vitreous fluid from the eye, maybe stomach contents, that was usually sent off to a separate lab. But any evidence from the body was our responsibility. So, let’s say the victim was shot. We would recover the clothes because the clothes are potential evidence.

FT: Right.

JM: Plus, you never know what may develop and need to be analyzed down the road. It may be that we wanted to determine the distance the perpetrator was to the victim when the gun was discharged. We do that by analyzing the clothes. If there was a bullet inside the cavity of the victim we would recover that as well, and that would go to our firearms section. It may be that there was a footwear impression on the victim’s clothes. We want all of the evidence we can get. Plus, we would also fingerprint the decedent for a couple of reasons. First it would be to identify the victim, a positive identification through fingerprints. We may need the victim’s prints for elimination purposes. By that I mean we could compare the prints from the crime scene, so that we know if we have the victim’s prints from the scene or we have suspect’s prints from the scene. We would also take photographs to document the location and extent of wounds, as well as to identify any evidence and things of that nature.

FT: Let me just ask a few more questions about the job itself. What does it say on the outside of the building? Does it say Forensics Lab, Division of Forensics, CSI, what does it say?

JM: Well, we’re a pretty big entity and we’re in a couple of different buildings. So, it depends on where you are. And also, we don’t really advertise so it doesn’t say much on the outside of the buildings.

FT: I see. That’s pretty smart.

JM: Once you get inside, it does say “CSI” in the building where I was. Forensics was in an adjacent, but separate building and it houses the forensic laboratory. Our photographic laboratory is in that building as well. And another thing I want to mention because it’s really important as well. We had a mobile crime scene investigation vehicle.

FT: Are all the buildings close?

JM: Yes. They’re adjacent to each other.

FT: I’ve been to Vegas a number of times and sometimes it gets really hot.

JM: It gets very hot and very cold in the desert.

FT: When you went to crime scenes did you have police badges and did you carry guns?

JM: In Las Vegas we do carry guns because it’s potentially very dangerous out there. And at times the CSA is at the scene by his or herself. Now, we investigate any felony so that includes burglaries, grand larcenies, robberies, sexual assaults, attempted murders, battery with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and of course murder. With respect to some of the property crimes like burglary or grand larceny, often the CSIs are there by themselves, they are armed, and that’s for self protection. With respect to badges, and you’ve probably seen this on TV, everybody is issued a vest, and there is a badge on the vest. The vest is used for a couple different purposes. First is for identification. Secondly, to store items. There are a lot of pockets in which to keep things. In the pockets on my vest I kept rubber gloves, booties, a couple flashlights, a knife, some pens, antimicrobial wipes, my walkie-talkie, and so on. Depending on their preferences, people would put different things in their vests.

FT: What is the average crime scene processing time?

JM: Well, there really is no average because every scene is different. I mean I could say a rough approximation is an hour and half on a burglary, but it could be four or five hours - but that is rare. On a homicide it could be eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty hours. It just depends. There really is no average time at one scene, like I said they are all different and we want to make sure that all of the evidence is identified, documented, and collected before we secure from the scene.

FT: Now, at a big scene like a murder with tons of evidence, I imagine you have more than one person there?

JM: Yes. From criminalistics. At a murder scene we would generally have two crime scene investigators and a supervisor at the minimum. Depending on the situation I’ve had my whole squad out at a site, which is eight CSIs and myself, investigating a scene that was extensive, convoluted, and covered a wide geographic distance. So, it just depends.

FT: Great. I do have to ask because you said 35 years in the field and if I did the math right, the only show on TV really doing any sort of forensics around that time was Quincy. My point is that was when you first started in the police department doing forensics, what state was forensics in at that point? I mean we did not have DNA then, what did we have and how advanced was it? We had blood typing, did you have ballistic and trace?

JM: That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked. Forensics has always been extremely important, but a lot of people didn’t know about it back then. The ones that valued it were the prosecutors. The key with physical evidence is that it does not lie, it has a story to tell, and it’s up to the forensic scientist to interpret that story. So, forensics has always been critical, but people didn’t know about it back then. The only thing people really understood back then was fingerprints. We didn’t have DNA back then, but we had serology. This is basically blood typing.

FT: Right.

JM: And then we have A, B, AB, and O along with some extensions of that, which we used all the time. We could not be that specific with serology as we can today with DNA. With the advent of the CSI TV shows and Forensic Files and others like that, criminals are now tried on forensics. Most people now realize how significant and important this is for criminal prosecution.

FT: Sure.

JM: First of all, evidence has a certain value. Always has, always will. I like to say that I was CSI before CSI was cool. It wasn’t cool back then. Now, everybody seems to have an interest in CSI. We did have firearms back then, we did have trace evidence back then, we did have controlled substances back then, but of course the techniques have evolved over the years so we can discern a lot more information with the equipment we have today. With forensics there are two key things that we need to concentrate on, and that’s with any tests or any type of evidence. And those are sensitivity and specificity. We try to glean the most information we can from the physical evidence.

FT: Yes. I have a few more job questions for you. What are the majority of cases the police department deals with that the forensic lab guys are involved with? Are they murders, are they abuse, are they robberies? What’s the vast majority?

JM: What we did in the CSI section is we would investigate any felony. Under Nevada law, a felony is any crime punishable by one year or longer in the Nevada State Prison. So, the thing we go on the most is burglaries. It’s a property crime, but it is a very serious crime. If you’re the victim of a burglary you’re going to be traumatized, you’re going to be upset, and you want the police department to investigate.

FT: Yep.

JM: Obviously, it is not as serious a crime as a murder, but it is a felony. On rare occasions we would respond on gross misdemeanors.

FT: I have a question, you may not know the answer to this. If you do not know, that is fine. There is a TV show called The First 48, have you seen it?

JM: A couple of times.

FT: I have to ask—on the show 90-95% of the crimes are solved by just canvassing and interviewing witnesses and I read here in Delaware that up to 90% or higher of the cases are pled out. So that leaves obviously a small percentage of overall cases for the CSIs to work through, but it is still possible to be a relatively large number. What kind of backlog do you guys have at CSI?

JM: Well, for us in CSI, the backlog in Las Vegas is not that bad. Now in some of the other forensic disciplines, there is a little bit of a backlog. I’ve been retired about 10 months now, so the statistics could have changed a little bit, but it was about like this when I retired. We had about a six months backlog in DNA because we did not have enough DNA analysts. I mean we could always use more forensic scientists. It was about a three-month backlog in latent prints, and that is actually not that bad. I mean there are other agencies that have a year or more of backlog in the various forensic disciplines. So, we could always use more people, but funding is always an issue.

FT: Okay.

JM: So with respect to what you said, that many crimes are solved by canvassing, I don’t know if I agree with that. I would agree that there are some, and I can’t give an exact statistic. There are various ways to solve cases. One is if a suspect is caught during the commission of a crime. That is a good way to solve a case. It happens, but not all that often. Another way to solve the case is if there is a victim or a witness that can positively identify the perpetrator. Does it happen? Yes, it happens, but not all that often, and remember, people can change their appearance. So, when that case goes to court, they may look completely different. Another way we can solve the case is if somebody confesses. Does it happen? Yeah, it happens, but there are potential problems with that as well. Maybe they weren’t advised of their Miranda Rights. Or, they were and they said that they weren’t, so there are potential issues there too.

FT: Okay.

JM: Hold on one second. My wife just brought up a very good point. She’s been with me for 25 years, so she’s very knowledgeable about forensics herself. There are a lot of plea bargains and that’s mainly because there’s not enough judges, there’s not enough courtrooms, there’s not enough prosecutors to take every case to trial immediately. When people do plead it’s because the evidence is usually overwhelming.

FT: Aaaaah.

JM: And the reason why the evidence is overwhelming is because of physical evidence.

FT: That makes perfect sense. Now, I have to ask the inevitable question, the one you get all the time. Can you compare and contrast your group and the Las Vegas CSIs to the TV show?

JM: Okay, that’s a great question I have been asked a lot and here’s how I like to explain it. The great thing about the TV show is, and I alluded to this earlier, it highlights the importance of crime scene investigators and physical evidence. Prior to the CSI show there had been a lot of police shows on TV, but it was more run and gun and detectives doing their job, or patrol interacting with people. The CSI show was the first one to highlight the significance, the value, of crime scene investigation. So kudos to them for that. I think that’s tremendous. Now on the TV show you have CSIs that do everything, while in real life that’s not the case. No one person can do everything. And no one lab can do everything.

FT: Really.

JM: It’s just not physically possible. That’s why we have different sections within the lab, because one person just can’t do it all. The other thing is that on the TV show they concentrate the entire squad to the one case, but in real life that’s not the way it is. We have crime scene investigators that go from call to call to call. So in a typical night they may go from a burglary to a robbery to a sexual assault to a stabbing. You usually can’t devote all of your personal resources on one particular case. The other fallacy about the TV show is that they solve the case in 44 minutes because they have to complete the story.

FT: I love that.

JM: And in real life it may take years. Just to give you an example - shortly before I retired I solved one of my murders from 27 years earlier.

FT: Wow.

JM: And I did that with fingerprints.

FT: Wow.

JM: So, just to kind of recap, I love forensic shows because I love forensics. But in real life it’s not quite like it is on TV.

FT: How often do people ask you about the TV show and try to make comparison between you and Gil Grissom?

JM: Hundreds of times, hundreds of times.

FT: That leads me to my next question which is what do you think of the CSI effect?

JM: Let me go over what the CSI effect is in case you don’t fully understand it. Because of the proliferation of TV shows, because of books, because of magazine articles, everybody has been exposed to forensic science. They know it exists and they’ve come to expect it. And that is not a bad thing. However, what has happened with us is that we often have to go to court and give what we call “negative testimony”. By that I mean we have to explain to the jury that sometimes what you see on TV isn’t the way it is in real life. We have to explain why we did not get fingerprints from that gun, why there was not any DNA from that crime scene.

FT: Okay.

JM: I personally think that’s a good thing, though. Because I think we need to educate the jurors. It is good to let them know what was there, what was done, why it was done, and why things weren’t done - so they can get a full appreciation of the investigation. So, the CSI effect doesn’t hurt. We do have to give that negative testimony at times, but I think it gives the jury a fuller picture of the complete case.

FT: I never looked at it from that point of view. I am glad I asked about it.

JM: Me too.

FT: So, what was your—well, I was going to ask what was your toughest case but solving a murderer after 27 years sounds like it’s pretty well up there.

JM: That’s up there. Let me tell you about one of my favorite cases.

FT: Absolutely.

JM: I’ll tell you quickly about two. One of my favorite cases took seven years to solve, it was solved by fingerprints. What had happened is a husband and wife owned a fruit stand in Las Vegas. It was actually an enclosed business where it was called the Fruit and Nut Stand.

FT: Okay.

JM: The store was robbed, and the lady proprietor had been brutally murdered. She had been cut up terribly with a bread knife. Well, the first person you always want to talk to is the spouse. Turns out he had a great alibi, because he was in California getting a load of fruits and nuts. It was a legitimate robbery for sure. This poor lady had been mutilated, and brutally murdered, after which she was dragged to a back storeroom. I was there with two other crime scene investigators conducting the crime scene investigation. There was a lot of blood about the storeroom. On a cabinet on the wall in the back storeroom where the victim was, there was a bloody fingerprint. I removed the cabinets so I could document and preserve the bloody fingerprint. There were a lot of other things we did to complete the scene investigation. Upon returning to the lab, I wanted to compare her prints to know whether or not the bloody print was hers or the perpetrator’s. So, I did that and it was not hers. That made me feel great, because I knew I had the suspect’s print.

FT: Yeah.

JM: We have the evidence to solve the case, we just have to come up with a viable suspect. We compared all the fingerprints we had access to - we compared the husband, and the employees - but it was none of them. We’ve got the physical evidence to solve the case we just don’t have a suspect. Now this print had a lot of distortion in it because of slippage and movement of the finger from when it came in contact with the cabinet.

So, about seven years went by and then we got a break, we got a lead, we got the name of the potential suspect. What happened was a lady in another state called the police department in the state where she lived (I believe it was North Carolina) and provided information to the local agency. It just so happened that the suspect and his wife/girlfriend had left Las Vegas to move to North Carolina shortly after the murder.

FT: Good.

JM: Well, they ended up having a fight and breaking up. She called the local authorities. She told them her husband had done a robbery at a fruit and nut store in Las Vegas years earlier. He told her he did the robbery, but he never mentioned the murder.

FT: Too cool.

JM: Exactly. I happened to be on vacation at the time and I was contacted by my lieutenant. We now had the name of the suspect and we had fingerprints on file for this guy. So I came in to examine the evidence. It took me about three hours, but I identified him through the bloody print on the cabinet. I solved the case.

FT: That must have felt really good.

JM: It felt wonderful.

FT: You said you had another case?

JM: Well, yes. This one is not a serious murder it was a burglary. It was a crime where a couple of kids had burglarized some homes. I went out to investigate and ended up recovering almost all of the stolen property. I made both the kids on fingerprints, I made one on footwear, and that’s when I met my wife who was living there - she was the victim. So I solved that case and won the heart of the damsel in distress.

FT: That is so cool, oh, man that’s nice. Let me shift gears. Is there any advice you have for today’s high school forensic teachers besides enthusiasm?

JM: Yes, there are a couple of things. Enthusiasm and bring in guest speakers. People who have experience in the discipline seem to really spark and pique the interests of students. Wait. My wife Lisa wants to say something.

FT: Great..

Lisa: Hi. Due to the pop culture of TV shows everyone wants to be a CSI, and it’s a very, very difficult job. First of all, a CSI job is a public service discipline, which in and of itself is a sacrifice. CSI jobs are part of a policing agency or department, which is para-military. In most all cases the department will dictate your work shift, schedule, tasks, scenes, workload, clothing, speech, and demeanor while on and often off the clock. The reality is not glam, hot and spicy like on TV.

Outdoors can be hot as hell or arctic cold, but there is a scene to be preserved and processed. You may be 8+ hours into a scene without the luxury of a toilet or even adequate shelter. Later, you’re so whipped from an extensive scene or call after call, but back at the lab all your evidence needs to be booked, preserved and processed. You’ll never have a fixed schedule or choice days off or holidays. Fifteen-minute breaks are almost unheard of and you may not even be guaranteed vacation time that best suits you or your family’s needs. And these realities could potentially last your entire career, seniority and all.

Joe and I have known many young people fresh out of college who began a CSI career totally jazzed about the job, as they should be, but unaware of all its realities. They call friends and family and say “Dude, guess what I’m gonna be doing”. Then about two years in the attitude and the enthusiasm begin to drastically wane. They could quickly become jaded and often turn into unhappy individuals.

These jobs are best begun by the young and energetic. I, by no means, wish to discourage anyone from consideration of being a CSI because these are rewarding and fulfilling careers. So long as one fully understands they are very hard work, which requires a lot of personal discipline and intestinal fortitude. Let’s face it, the majority of candidates for these jobs are coming from the entitlement generation most of which have been indulged and have rarely worked for an agency where someone is constantly telling them what to do.

Speaking to the non-glamorous, during our married life [25 years of Joe’s 35 year career] my husband has been exposed to gunfire and physical altercations from and with suspects. He has been exposed to head and body lice, HIV, leprosy, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. He’s been exposed to the chemicals and the dangers of clandestine drug labs, dangerous temperatures, weather conditions, and poor driving conditions. He has had to climb mountains, canyons, and crevices (he is not a mountain climber) to investigate bodies. He has dug mummified remains from the ground, liquefied bodies from containers, and sifted for bodies or parts in landfills and dumpsters, just to name a few scenarios. This of course says nothing of the sheer human toll of victimization and/or grief from terror and loss that he witnessed on a daily basis.

These jobs are hard on families; you have to have a very strong and solid emotional core and a cohesive life partner and family structure. But most importantly the individual taking the job really has to understand that this career is a sacrifice that serves the greater good to which rarely there is an equal privilege.

FT: Absolutely.

Lisa: That is what I can contribute. It is a hard job and I admire and I wish the best for anyone who is going into this profession because you will deal with the worst life has to offer every day. On a great day all you have are burglaries. But never lose perspective of the good that comes from your efforts and care.

FT: Thank you, Lisa You are the first person I’ve spoken with who has talked about the reality of the job. On TV, you are right, it sounds glitzy and glamorous and jazzy. Oh, let me take my high heeled shoes and low cut V neck and my bracelets and jewelry and I won’t be doing this murder more than 7-8 minutes and then I am going out clubbing. You are absolutely right about the heartbreak and the crime and the sacrifices and I am really grateful to you for bringing that up. Thank you.

Lisa: Joe and I often discussed his scenes and lamented the fact that there was nothing he could do to undo what crime occurred on our streets or in a victim’s life, but what he did do was his best job possible to ensure that justice had its chance to be played out.

FT: Absolutely.

Lisa: And one last thing: everybody loves firefighters and nobody loves a cop—until they need one. Then if the outcome is not perfect to every single individual someone will undoubtedly want to sue the police department and claim all kinds of insidious stuff against them. Sadly, I think most everyone believes that cops are always profiling people, and that they have each other’s backs when they do bad things, and that most all cops are just plain dirty and sleezy. These are not the cops we know, including our local cops as well as many cops from agencies worldwide. Are there bad cops? Obviously. There are bad apples in every walk of life and every profession. I myself have worked for some classic rear-ends in the private sector. There are approximately 2 million people in Las Vegas and we have a very large police department, which is most deservedly highly accredited and staffed with fine individuals just like you and me. They care deeply and perform exemplary work for our community and its people.

JM: Do you have any other questions for her?

FT: No, I don’t. I just want to reaffirm that CSI in real life does not include model-like clothes and everybody does not have a glass office with glass all around?

JM: No. You are absolutely correct.

FT: And you don’t have the state of the art equipment because you are not on unlimited budget, right?

JM: Well, we do have a lot of state of the art equipment but no one has all of that instrumentation. Well, I mean the FBI does, Scotland Yard does. But typically no one agency has everything.

FT: Okay. Now, also—this is the biggest thing that bugs me about the TV show and I just–you didn’t work in the dark. Please tell me you turned on the lights.

JM: Oh, yeah. We’ll turn on the lights, yes. And let me tell you a couple of things about that. Lighting is critical in everything in forensic science. When you think about it, what does light do? It enables us to see. And the first thing that we have to do in any investigation is see the whole picture, so lighting is critical. We do use flashlights. I always carried seven flashlights with me for different purposes. There may have been times when we went to a crime scene and it was dark and we might photograph the light fixtures to show the original condition that they were in, but then we would turn on the lights. The reason why they don’t do that on TV, I think, is for dramatic effect.

FT: Oh, yes. For one of the last labs of the year in my forensics class I set up a crime scene, actually four of them, in my classroom and I would keep the students in the hallway until I was ready. And I told them on this day, make sure you dress up really fancy like you’re going for a job interview. They would come in and I had the room all dark except for a blue light in one corner and a flashing red light in the other corner and I would get each pair of students a little flashlight like what they use on TV, and I would say here is your crime scene, how many pieces of evidence can you find? And there would be six pieces of evidence for each crime scene in each of the corners. I think the best they ever get was to find two of them and the point of the exercise was just to demonstrate that you really need to turn on the lights.

JM: That’s right, you do! Lighting is critical, I mean, for photo documentation you have to have light and if it’s too dark, you’re not going to see anything, you’re not going to capture any of the images. Plus, with fingerprints, and this is one of the things I teach- too much and too little light is not good for visualizing the evidence. I recently taught this at St. Joseph’s College in Indiana for the master’s program in Forensic Science for Dr. Neal Haskell.

FT: Yep.

JM: So, when searching for fingerprints you really want light that isn’t too dim or too powerful. Now there are times when we do want intense light to initially see the prints, but that’s all part of the learning curve. Lighting is crucial.

FT: Thank you for justifying my biggest pet peeve about TV. Let us talk about you for a second. What were you like as a kid, were you always curious, were you always into trouble, or what kind of kid where you?

JM: [Laughs] What kind of kid was I?

FT: Yes. A lot of people I interview are the same way as adults as they were as kids, and they are infinitely curious or enthusiastic or they just gotta take the next step and find out why or how or who?

JM: I know what you’re asking. I’m chuckling because I’ve never been asked that question before. I have been referred to as Curious George. I have always been a very curious, inquisitive individual. I was always also very studious. I was actually a good kid; I mean I did not get into trouble. I was very respectful with my parents and elders. I am a Catholic. When I was a kid, I went to church, I still go to church every Sunday as an adult.

FT: What were your favorite subjects in school, elementary and high school?

JM: Science. I have always been interested in science. I mean, I love pretty much everything about science. When I was in college I took courses that didn’t really apply to my major, but that I had an interest in. To give you an example, I took a lot of anthropology classes; didn’t really apply to my major, but I had an interest in it. I took accounting—didn’t apply to my major, but I had an interest in it. And I took some criminal justice classes. That is kind of what led me into my 35-year police department career. Do you want me to expound on that?

FT: Sure.

JM: Well, my degree was in biology, and I love chemistry, but as I said I took a lot of criminal justice classes just because I had an interest in the subject.

FT: Right.

JM: This is my story. After my third or fourth criminal justice class, the instructor came out to me one day and he said, “I’ve had you in a couple classes, and I know you’re not a criminal justice major. Can I ask why you are taking these classes?” I told him I had an interest in the subject. I told him that I was a science major. And he said he happened to know the director of the police crime lab. He asked if I would be interested in an internship at the crime lab for college credit.

FT: This is at UNLV, University of Nevada, Las Vegas?

JM: Yes. So I interned for a year in the police crime lab while I was in college.

FT: Wow.

JM: And so with some of the things I worked on in the criminalistics, or forensic lab, I did a pretty good job on it and I guess impressed some people. After I graduated college, I originally wanted to be a criminalist (forensic scientist). I was told there weren’t any openings and there wouldn’t have been for several years. And so the lieutenant who was in charge of CSI offered me a job; that’s how I started with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

FT: Excellent. Now, going back to college and even high school, I ask because I asked all the people I interview for this magazine to think about a couple of teachers you had either in high school or college that really, really stood out in your mind, that you could not wait to get back to their class because it was so absorbing. I am sure you can easily recall these people. What did these teachers do that really lit a fire within you?

JM: In high school and in college the best teachers I had were the ones that were passionate about what they were teaching. I think that says it all. They loved what they did and that came across when they were teaching their students.

FT: Thank you so much for talking today. I had a great time.

JM: No problem. I appreciate being interviewed. Thanks for the opportunity.

When CSI premiered on CBS on October 6, 2000 it was unlike anything America had ever seen before. Prime time television combined drama, glitz, suspense, cutting edge forensic science, and compelling characters to produce a show that was soon on everyone’s lips. The unexpected happened overnight and it hit like a thunderstorm.

Forensics became cool.

People who had been doing something previously thought to be too technical for the general public for decades were suddenly celebrities beyond the medico-legal field. Dr. Henry Lee, Dr. G., serial killers, and a gamut of forensic television series all became fixtures in the American mind. Other shows popped up like dandelions after a summer rain. Even juries became hungry for forensic details when they served, a phenomenon called the CSI Effect.

But before Gil Grissom there was Joe Matvay. Both were shift supervisors for the Las Vegas Metro Police Department Crime Lab. Both oversaw CSIs, cases, crime scenes, and evidence by the boatload. Neither was afraid to get their hands dirty, and they often did. The main difference between them, though, was that Gil was a character in one of the hottest groundbreaking dramas to hit television, and Joe was the guy doing Gil’s job in real-life. Both retired not too long ago, and we were fortunate enough to catch up with Joe on the phone at his house in Las Vegas.

By Mark Feil, Ed.D.

Chillin’ With the

Real Deal