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State police: Jamaica Plain crime lab shut down, potential for wrongful convictions (UPDATED)

August 30 2012 A chemist at a drug lab in Jamaica Plain violated procedures that potentially led to wrongful convictions.

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Thousands of drug cases from various local police departments could be in jeopardy after an investigation revealed a chemist violated protocols at a state crime lab in Jamaica Plain.

Gov. Deval Patrick ordered the drug lab to be shut down while authorities continue their investigation.
The chemist, who was not identified, worked at the lab for eight years before she resigned in March. State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said Thursday that criminal charges are possible. The attorney general’s office is investigating.

The Globe reported citing unnamed sources that the chemist is Annie Dookhan of Franklin.

State officials also placed the division director previously responsible for the lab's management and oversight on leave pending the outcome.

The breach in protocols put into jeopardy probably thousands of drug cases, authorities said, and there is the potential that some people are in jail after being wrongfully convicted.

"The ramifications … is the potential that we have people incarcerated or that have been wrongly prosecuted," Alben said. "The consequences here are a miscarriage of justice."

Officials did not say specifically what the chemist did to compromise the cases, but said there were breaches and irregularities that occurred in procedures at the lab, which include redundancies and checks and balances.

Guy Vallaro, director of the state police forensic services group, said it is also likely the chemist testified in court on some of the cases.

Anthony Benedetti, the chief counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said he is awaiting a list of all of the cases the chemist handled. He also said the incident shows the Supreme Court was right in its 2009 ruling that state chemists must appear in court, rather than just submit reports, to be cross-examined.

"It just shows you the kind of damage that can be done by one individual," he said.

The Jamaica Plain lab handles 8,000 drug cases a year and was previously overseen by the Department of Public Health. State Police took over that lab and others in July after a move by the legislature. The Department of Public Health had started an investigation into the breaches in June 2011, but state police officials were not informed until a month before the take over, authorities said.

"I think we’re all furious about this. This is something that goes to the integrity of law enforcement. It goes to ethical behavior," Alben said.

Gov. Deval Patrick released a statement about the investigation.

"This is deeply troubling information. No breach this serious can or will be tolerated. The State Police will continue their investigation to determine what happened and who is responsible so that we can hold those accountable," he said.

The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association said they are awaiting a list of criminal cases that have been identified as part of the investigation.

"We, as District Attorneys, will take the appropriate action necessary to ensure that justice is done. We have notified our counterparts in the Public Defender community to let them know that they will be provided the list of cases as soon as we obtain it," a statement from the group said.

MICHAEL NAUGHTON
 
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