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Drug lab cover-up allegations eyed –

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2012 | Uncategorized |

Drug lab cover-up allegations eyed
Attorneys’ cases could be compromised

Photo by Christopher Evans

Defense attorneys whose cases hinge on samples tested at a now-shuttered state-run drug lab yesterday charged that a logbook was “doctored” to cover up the alleged mishandling of drug evidence by a disgraced chemist at the center of a state police probe.

On June 21, 2011, one day after supervisors of the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute chemist — identified by multiple criminal lawyers as Annie Dookhan — found no trace of her logging drugs in and out and of an evidence room for testing on June 14, the record-keeping “irregularities” were suddenly fixed, Linda Han, head of the Department of Public Health lab, wrote in a Feb. 21 letter this year to Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey.

“On June 21st, when the log book was re-examined, entries did appear showing a transfer of the samples from the evidence office to the chemist. It appeared that these entries were made by the chemist after June 14,” Han told the district attorney, noting the chemist was immediately stripped of her lab duties.

Late last night state police Superintendent Timothy P. Alben announced in an email that Dookhan’s immediate supervisor at the lab had been placed on leave during the investigation “because the supervisor was responsible for overseeing the work of the lab chemist.” Earlier in the evening state Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach also put on leave his agency’s division director who oversaw the lab before the state police took it over on July 1 “pending the outcome of the attorney general’s investigation.” Neither was named. A state police spokesman added that the 10 chemists still on the Hinton payroll were also placed on “temporary administrative leave” until they can be transferred to a different lab in Sudbury, probably sometime next week.

In addition, Alben promised last night to provide a list of cases affected by the scandal next week.

Anne Goldbach, forensic services director for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said based on Han’s letter, which was included in court filings, “It appears she tried to go back and sign the drugs out. … It appears she tried to cover up her breach of protocol but it had already been discovered the day before by her supervisors.”

Lawyer Rosemary Scapicchio, who said the scandal could “destroy the integrity of the entire (drug testing) system,” said she believes the suspected malfeasance may extend beyond the one chemist.

“I don’t think this is an isolated incident with this woman,” she said, pointing to the system DPH had in place where two chemists worked on each case.

“Somebody doctored the books,” said attorney Susan Rayburn, who is representing several defendants whose evidence Dookhan analyzed. “She wasn’t operating in a vacuum.”

State police, who have said the chemist could face criminal charges, indicated yesterday that no other lab employees are being investigated at this point.

While lab managers barred Dookhan from testing as of June 21, 2011, they waited until Dec. 1 to notify DPH’s central office because, as Han wrote, “they did not appreciate its potential legal significance and because of their opinion that the integrity of the test results had not been affected.”

State police now say the scope of the problem far exceeded anything officials first imagined, touching essentially every county in eastern Massachusetts and possibly calling into question thousands of cases. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston also said federal drug cases are under review.

“This has been a huge black mark on the reliability of the crime lab,” said Brockton defense attorney Kevin Reddington.

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