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I-Team: State Drug Lab Chemist’s Actions Could Affect Thousands Of Cases

By Karen Anderson, WBZ-TV I-Team
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BOSTON (CBS) – Governor Deval Patrick has shut down the state drug lab in Jamaica Plain after learning about improprieties with drug testing.

State Police discovered one of the chemists had not been following proper protocol in her drug testing and are now working to determine the extent of the problem.

State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben said the issues are isolated to one person who has worked at the lab since 2003.  But, it likely involves thousands of local police cases.

“We are all furious about this,” he told reporters at an afternoon news conference.

It’s also likely that the chemist, identified as Annie Dookhan, testified at criminal trials.

Prominent Massachusetts defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio says defense attorneys have been aware of the allegations for a while.

Scapicchio tells WBZ-TV that a number of defense attorneys have been challenging whether lab work was conducted within the protocols.

She believes that District Attorneys may have been misrepresenting how many cases are affected when they contended that the number was small and the evidence was re-tested.

Scapicchio wants the lab to release a list of all the cases that may be affected, and has been asking for information for months.

WBZ spoke with the chemist’s father in Florida. He says his daughter had complained to him in the past about being bullied by her co-workers at the lab.

Her father was unaware of today’s developments.

MOTIVATED BY EGO?

Investigators say Dookhan had not been stealing drugs and they do not believe that she was trying to influence outcomes of cases.

They believe that she was trying to be the smartest chemist in the lab and in doing so she cut corners in her work.

HISTORY OF PROBLEMS WITH CHEMIST

In December, Dookhan’s supervisor first discovered inconsistencies in her log book.

When they looked into the problem, authorities found that she had not been signing certain items in and out.

She was suspended and, over the course of the investigation, she resigned.

Investigators with the lab believed that the problems were limited to just one day.

At that time, the lab was run by the Department of Public Health.

The State Police recently took over and it was in that process that more problems were uncovered.

IMPLICATIONS

This drug lab handles cases for District Attorneys in Suffolk, Bristol and Norfolk Counties.

The chemists help investigators determine the type and amount of drugs seized.   The most common substances tested are marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs.

After filing their reports, the chemists may have to testify in court.

It is unclear how many convictions in criminal cases Dookhan could affect.

The Jamaica Plan office is one of three drug testing labs in the Commonwealth.  The others are in Sudbury and Amherst.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach said in a statement that he had placed the division director who was previously responsible for the lab’s management and oversight on leave pending the outcome of the case.

A total of 10 staff members have been placed on leave until the state is able to relocate them to the Sudbury lab. Those staff members were not believed to be involved with any of the incidents. However, they will undergo additional training.

Auerbach called the allegations “deeply disturbing” and vowed full cooperation.

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