A “rogue chemist” is being blamed with potentially compromising tens of thousands of drug samples at a Massachusetts’ state crime lab, a scandal that has already resulted in the resignation of Massachusetts’ Public Health Commissioner, and which is threatening to ensnare Gov. Deval Patrick (D).
The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that the crisis “has the potential to taint [Patrick’s] national image and keep him bogged down in the details of governing,” and that the scandal speaks “directly to Patrick’s management of a critical public safety function.”
Also Wednesday, outgoing Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach spoke to reporters for the first time about the situation. Patrick accepted Auerbach’s resignation on Monday, but Auerbach will remain in his post for a transitional period.
“I want to be absolutely clear: I accept no responsibility for the actions of a rogue chemist,” Auerbach said, before adding: “At the Department of Public Health, the buck stops with me.”
In a letter to attorneys in the state, sent last week, the president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said he had been told by state officials that a chemist named Annie Dookhan had been accused of deliberately tampering with some drug samples at a now-shuttered crime lab in Jamaica Plain, Mass., according to the Associated Press.
“The lab is apparently unable to tie this conduct to specific cases. And the conduct appears to have occurred over a prolonged period. There are also questions about supervision of the lab generally, failure to follow and update protocols throughout the lab, the quality of the analyst’s work due to the exceptional number of analyses she conducted, and the particular analyst’s sign-off on the work of others,” Max Stern wrote in the letter.
Dookhan, who was hired in 2003, reportedly handled 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants in her time at the lab.
From the AP:
Dookhan resigned in March, and late last week, state officials announced that one manager has been fired and another resigned in the wake of the scandal. State Attorney General Martha Coakley is conducting a criminal investigation.
According to the Globe, employees at the lab where Dookhan worked had for years voiced complaints about understaffing and underfunding, but Patrick on Wednesday tried to put distance between those issues and the current situation.
“We’re dealing with, by all accounts, a rogue chemist who for many years, going back to 2003 or 2004, has not done her job, and that’s gone undetected for a long time,” Patrick said. “I know there are those who want to say this has to do with the budget challenges of the last two years, but that’s just not borne out by the evidence.”
On Tuesday, state House members launched their own investigation into the lab.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com