Massachusetts crime lab scandal might contain much more wrongdoing

A decade-old scandal at a Massachusetts crime lab — which led authorities to dismiss tens of hundreds of drug convictions — might contain wrongdoing by extra individuals than was beforehand identified, in line with a current court docket order. 

A state Superior Courtroom decide stated in a ruling associated to the discharge of a trove of state investigative supplies that there’s proof that different workers on the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute — past disgraced former chemist Annie Dookhan — might have engaged in misconduct. No less than one particular person was referred to the state legal professional basic’s workplace in 2015 for potential prosecution, Choose John T. Lu wrote final week. 

The ruling stokes lingering doubts about statements by the state inspector basic’s workplace over the previous eight years that Dookhan was the “sole dangerous actor” on the Hinton lab. And it means the huge scandal might develop. 

“It is a vital improvement. It justifiably raises questions concerning the felony convictions that the lab helped to supply with or with out Annie Dookhan’s involvement,” stated Matthew Segal, the authorized director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who has led the struggle by protection attorneys to unearth the huge misconduct at a pair of government-run Massachusetts labs that prompted the state’s highest court docket to dismiss 61,000 drug prices. 

Annie Dookhan, middle, is escorted out of her house by authorities in Franklin, Mass., on Sept. 28, 2012.Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP

Dookhan’s misconduct on the Hinton lab was uncovered in 2012, after she had labored there for almost a decade. She admitted to tampering with proof, forging check outcomes and mendacity about it, in line with court docket information. She served three years in jail and was launched in 2016. The general public she helped convict of low-level drug offenses pleaded responsible and completed their sentences lengthy earlier than she was prosecuted, in line with protection attorneys. Greater than 21,000 instances she labored on have been dismissed.

Lu’s ruling Sept. 16 is linked to instances in Middlesex County wherein defendants are difficult drug convictions based mostly on proof that protection attorneys say was processed on the Hinton lab — not by Dookhan, however by different chemists, together with Sonja Farak. 

Farak labored on the Hinton lab from 2002 to August 2004 earlier than she moved to a state lab in Amherst, the place she fed a drug habit by utilizing samples she was presupposed to be analyzing in felony instances, in line with court docket information. She pleaded responsible in 2014 to tampering with proof and drug theft prices and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Greater than 16,000 instances she labored on have been dismissed.

Farak has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection along with her work at Hinton.

Farak and Dookhan couldn’t instantly be reached for remark.     

The Middlesex County defendants are difficult their convictions, saying the state did not particularly examine Farak and different chemists whereas they labored at Hinton. 

“Now we have to unravel what occurred at Hinton,” stated James P. McKenna, who represents two of the Middlesex defendants convicted with proof examined by chemists apart from Dookhan.

Former Massachusetts Inspector Basic Glenn A. Cunha, who retired this yr, stated in 2019 that his workplace by no means particularly investigated Farak’s work at Hinton. Cunha didn’t instantly reply to an e mail requesting remark. 

Dookhan’s and Farak’s misconduct and the fallout have been a persisting embarrassment for the state, and so they have upended its felony justice system. The state public defender’s workplace estimated final yr that as many as 250,000 convictions resulted from lab work on the now-closed Hinton lab when Dookhan, Farak and different chemists labored there. 

1000’s of wrongly convicted individuals went to jail or jail or misplaced their jobs, properties and parental rights, in line with protection attorneys. 

In June, the state agreed to pay as a lot as $14 million to settle a class-action lawsuit to reimburse greater than 30,000 wrongfully convicted defendants for the fines and charges they paid the state in prosecutions based mostly on problematic crime lab assessments. The state has additionally spent greater than $30 million for different prices linked to investigating and addressing the hurt of the scandal. 

Lu’s ruling final week, which ordered that the defendants be given entry to state paperwork wherein the names of individuals talked about within the Hinton investigation aren’t redacted, makes it clear that the inspector basic’s considerations concerning the Hinton drug lab went past Dookhan. The ruling says that “it has develop into evident that the OIG made and/or thought of a number of felony referrals to the Lawyer Basic for different individuals on the Hinton Drug Lab.” 

In June 2015, the inspector basic’s workplace referred one matter to the legal professional basic’s workplace for attainable prosecution “based mostly on check outcomes from an unbiased out-of-state laboratory, which have been inconsistent with the Hinton Drug Lab outcomes, suggesting that felony acts might have been dedicated by one other particular person on the Hinton Lab,” Lu wrote.

“Additionally, there have been different situations the place different individuals on the lab knew or ought to have identified that sure substances weren’t thought of managed substances beneath Massachusetts regulation however brought about certificates of study to be issued stating that the substances have been unlawful, leading to defendants being wrongfully convicted,” he wrote.  

Lu didn’t disclose the identities of these individuals in his ruling, and quite a few information stay beneath seal. Lu’s order barred all events to the instances from sharing particulars of the newly unredacted state investigation paperwork.  

In 2014, the inspector basic stated in a report that Dookhan was the “sole dangerous actor” on the Hinton crime lab, and the inspector basic’s workplace has restated that quite a few occasions since then, at the same time as protection attorneys and judges have raised questions concerning the scope of the inspector basic’s $6 million investigation.   

A spokesperson for state Lawyer Basic Maura Healey, the Democratic nominee for governor, declined to remark when she was requested what motion — if any — the legal professional basic’s workplace took as soon as it acquired the 2015 referral.   

A spokesman for the inspector basic’s workplace declined to remark, citing ongoing litigation. 

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