Dookhan Was Drug Lab’s ‘Sole Bad Actor,’ Report Says
There is mixed reaction to the long-awaited State Inspector General report on the Massachusetts drug lab scandal. The report says chronic managerial negligence was a big factor behind former chemist Annie Dookhan’s falsified drug tests. Dookhan is now serving a three- to five-year prison sentence.
State officials say steps have been taken to address some of the problems outlined in the report and forensic testing is now sound. But some defense attorneys say the report raises questions about even more than the almost 40,000 criminal convictions the state says may have been affected.
The 120-page report that Inspector General Glenn Cunha released yesterday is the culmination of a 15-month investigation. In it, Cunha describes Dookhan as a “sole bad actor” whose malfeasance was exacerbated by bad management.
“The lack of effective management and oversight provided the atmosphere for someone like Annie Dookhan to commit her crimes,” Cunha said. “We did not find evidence that other chemists falsified their tests.”
But Cunha said his investigation found that lab managers knew what was going on and failed to take action.
“Starting in 2011, other chemists repeatedly complained about Dookhan,” Cunha said. “Those complaints fell on deaf ears.”
Several lab managers and former Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach resigned because of the scandal.
Among some of the other things cited in the report: the lab did not use proper procedures to weigh drug samples in drug trafficking cases and sometimes potentially exculpatory evidence was not reported. So, Cunha said more than 2,000 samples have to be re-tested.
“The lab only reported the final results to the prosecutors, thereby failing to provide potentially exculpatory evidence,” he said. “We’ve initiated re-tests of approximately 2,300 samples in order to confirm the accuracy of the drug lab’s findings.”
Some defense attorneys said the report shows that all testing done at the lab is in doubt.
“The scandal is actually bigger than we thought,” said Matt Segal of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Segal was surprised by the report’s documentation of how Dookhan’s testing went on for her eight years at the lab.
“[The report] also finds — although it doesn’t use this word — that there was a cover-up by public officials who declined to report Ms. Dookhan’s misconduct,” Segal said.
Segal said all criminal convictions based on tests done at the Hinton Drug Lab should be dismissed because of the wide-ranging problems detailed in the report.
The state has identified about 40,000 criminal cases affected and has set up special “drug lab sessions” to review the cases. To date, 359 defendants have been released from state prisons because Dookhan tested the drugs in their cases.
Defense attorney Martin Healy, general counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, said Cunha’s report shows that the state needs to come up with a uniform way to deal with all the affected cases.
“There’s a cloud over all of the work that’s been done in that lab because the report didn’t limit it to just what Dookhan did but it pointed fingers at her managers,” Healy said.
Gov. Deval Patrick rejected that.
“I used to be a defense attorney,” he said. “I would say the same thing.”
The report does not address how to handle the affected cases, but Cunha said there are instances where cases should be evaluated — such as those involving samples his investigators wanted to re-test but couldn’t because the samples no longer exist.
The governor said the criminal cases affected need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis because they’re too complicated to be summarily dismissed. Patrick said the state has taken steps to address the issues and it has hired more chemists.
“We’ve increased the number of chemists who are testing from five to 20,” he said. “There are about three more, I think, on the way. The increase in staffing allows the lab to test over 1,800 cases a month, which is up from about 400 on average in the past.”
The Inspector General report makes several recommendations, including better training and random drug testing of lab analysts. It also says the state police are the appropriate agency to do drug testing, even though many national forensic experts say the testing should be removed from law enforcement to prevent possible bias.
The Inspector General report does not address the relationship between prosecutors and chemists, which was called into question by Dookhan’s emails to prosecutors. One prosecutor resigned over the emails.
The vast majority of criminal drug testing in Massachusetts is now done at the State Police Lab in Sudbury.
Police yesterday offered tours of the Sudbury facility, where Lt. Colonel Francis Matthews said there are several procedures in place to protect the integrity of the testing.
“It’s the science that speaks at the end of day,” he said. “Nothing will roll out of here that isn’t scientifically sound.”
Matthews said they’re still in the process of training the new chemists and there is still a backlog of tests. But he said unlike the Hinton Lab, the state police lab is accredited. He says the regular audits of the lab done during the accreditation process will help prevent another scandal in the future.
This post was updated Wednesday at 6:30 a.m.