BOSTON (AP) — State officials have suspended two supervisors at a Massachusetts crime lab where a chemist is accused of mishandling drug evidence, which could expose thousands of drug convictions to legal challenges, and defense attorneys told a newspaper that she tried to alter an evidence log.
The Boston lab was closed Thursday after state police say they discovered that the chemist failed to follow testing protocols. The lab certified drug evidence in cases submitted by local police from around the state.
The Massachusetts attorney general's office is conducting a criminal investigation. The chemist resigned in March during an internal investigation but has not been charged. Officials have not named her.
The division director responsible for the lab has been placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation, the Department of Public Health said Saturday.
Another supervisor responsible for overseeing the chemist has also been placed on leave, State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben said. There is no evidence suggesting the supervisor was involved in wrongdoing or criminal conduct at this time, he said.
Defense attorneys whose cases involved samples tested at the lab told The Boston Herald that the former chemist tried to alter a logbook to cover up her alleged failure to record the movement of drugs in and out of an evidence room.
A letter written by the lab chief to Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey says the record-keeping irregularities were mysteriously fixed one day after supervisors discovered the problem, the newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/PM8CC8).
"On June 21st, when the log book was re-examined, entries did appear showing a transfer of the samples from the evidence office to the chemist. It appeared that these entries were made by the chemist after June 14," Han said in the letter, adding that the chemist was immediately stripped of her lab duties.
Public defenders began hearing about problems at the lab months ago, said Larry Tipton, who heads the Norfolk Superior Court office of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. He said one public defender in his office received a letter in February from an assistant district attorney who said a chemist was being investigated for a "possible breach of protocol" with respect to some drug samples. The prosecutor identified the chemist as Annie Dookhan.
Dookhan did not return a call for comment Saturday.
State police are compiling a database of cases the chemist worked on and plan to turn that over to prosecutors and defense attorneys next week, according to a statement.
"The allegations of wrongdoing and potential implications for our judicial system are very concerning," Alben said. "Our job now is to continue to work with the Attorney General's Office to get to the bottom of what went wrong, assign accountability where it is warranted and prevent this type of breach from happening again."