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DPH Commissioner Auerbach Resigns In State Crime Lab Probe

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BOSTON (CBS/AP) – Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach resigned Monday, the highest profile casualty in the fallout from a probe into mishandled evidence at the state crime lab in Jamaica Plain.

The Attorney General’s office is still investigating the handling of state evidence by chemist Annie Dookhan, who worked at the lab for nine years before quitting earlier this year.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports

She handled 60,000 samples and may have tainted 34,000 criminal cases.

“It is clear that there was insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers surrounding the former Department of Public Health drug lab in Jamaica Plain – and ultimately, as Commissioner, the buck stops with me,” Auerbach said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“What happened at the drug lab was unacceptable and the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal justice system. We owe it to ourselves and the public to make sure we understand exactly how and why this happened. I will continue to work with investigators to make sure we find answers and accept responsibility.”

Gov. Deval Patrick  accepted Auerbach’s resignation. Auerbach will remain in the role until his replacement is found. When he leaves, he will take a job at Northeastern University.

“The failures at the Department of Public Health drug lab are serious and the actions and inactions of lab management compounded the problem. The Commissioner recognizes that, as the head of DPH, he shares accountability for the breakdown in oversight,” Patrick said in a statement.

The problem with Dookhan came to light in June 2011. Auerbach was made aware in December and waited six weeks to tell his boss, HHS Secretary JudyAnn Bigby. She notified the Governor and State Police.

But the problem, Bigby admits, was that the Department of Public Health didn’t properly investigate to discover that Dookhan’s misconduct went on for more than just one day.

Bigby says she has no plans to resign.

The Massachusetts Public Health Association says although the drug lab failures are troubling, Auerbach accomplished a lot as commissioner. “Over the last six years, John has been one of the nation’s most effective and innovative public health leaders,” said Maddie Ribble, MPHA’s Director of Policy and Communications.

Last Thursday, a supervisor at the lab, Linda Han, the Director of Bureau of Lab Sciences, resigned.

A second supervisor, Julie Nassif, the Director of the Analytic Chemistry Division, was fired.

Allegations first surfaced last month that Dookhan had mishandled evidence in the lab. Dookhan resigned and the lab was shut down.

The lab had been overseen by the Department of Public Health before being transferred to state police as part of a budgetary realignment.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report.  

You can follow her on Twitter @karenreports.

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