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News and Features: Online exclusives

Investigator: Dookhan cases exceed 40,000

State has spent $7.6 million on investigating the scandal to date

BY: Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

The number of people accused of drug crimes based on faulty drug evidence has surpassed 40,000, special counsel David Meier said today.

Former Department of Public Health crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan was involved in 40,323 individuals’ cases, during a tenure marred by breaches of protocol that have thrown thousands of convictions into question and resulted in charges against the Franklin resident, Meier said.

“To the extent that an individual believes that he or she may have been affected by Ms. Dookhan, what that individual has done, or presumably will do, is to contact his or her attorney, or contact the Massachusetts Bar Association, or contact the local district attorney’s office or contact the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and it’s through the lawyers that the information is being distributed,” Meier told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon briefing. He said, “I can’t speculate on what’s going to happen in the court system.”

The Massachusetts Bar Association released a statement saying Meier’s work was only the beginning of what needs to be done and chided the administration and prosecutors for moving too slowly on Dookhan-related cases.

“The depth of the crisis is unfathomable and reveals what can only be described as an unconscionable level of gross negligence at the state drug lab,” MBA Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy said in the statement. “The overwhelming tide of individuals affected by Dookhan’s actions requires a systematic and speedy resolution to ensure immediate redress for individuals wrongfully convicted or affected by tainted evidence.”

The Hinton drug lab in Jamaica Plain was shuttered on Gov. Deval Patrick’s order last Aug. 30, and then-DPH Commissioner John Auerbach resigned in the face of the burgeoning scandal. The investigation has so far cost $7.6 million, according to the Office of Administration and Finance. CommonWealth examined the scandal and the red flags that were ignored by her superiors in our Winter edition earlier this year.

Meier said while the state initially released a list of Dookhan-involved cases estimated to include about 34,000 individuals, the team investigating the extent of the breach later determined the initial list included 37,500 names. Meier and his team then tracked down an additional 2,800 individuals who were co-defendants and otherwise involved in cases where Dookhan had some involvement.

Last December, Meier announced 10,000 priority cases, which included 2,000 incarcerated individuals and others under probation or parole. The Superior Court has so far held 2,600 hearings on those case, and the “vast majority” have been heard in district courts or Boston Municipal Court, Meier said.

The major transgressions by Dookhan, who has been dubbed a “rogue chemist” by state officials, was uncovered by State Police when they took over the lab last summer.

Dookhan allegedly identified drug evidence by sight, rather than through scientific tests, and would manipulate the evidence sample if a follow-up test didn’t match her visual analysis. Some defense attorneys have argued that Dookhan’s behavior at the lab should call into question all of the cases that were handled at the facility.

Meier said his task was limited to identifying the cases where Dookhan had involvement during a career that began in 2003. Meier said the list of the more than 40,000 defendants would not be released to the public as it contains sensitive information, though a fictitious example list would be distributed.

Meier’s team analyzed about 3.5 million documents, “methodically turning over page by page as many laboratory documents as we could,” he said.
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