Law enforcement officials in Chelsea and prosecutors in Boston have been crossing their fingers and waiting the last couple of weeks to see if a tidal wave of chaos hits the City in the fallout from an alleged rogue chemist at the State Department of Public Health (DPH) Drug Lab in Jamaica Plain.
More than a week ago, news broke that a chemist employed at the lab for nine years had botched, ignored and failed to adequately test drug evidence for thousands of prosecuted drug cases in Suffolk County. That chemist – who resigned in March – is Annie Dookhan, and her actions could affect the successful prosecutions of as many as 34,000 cases, and as many as 60,000 drug evidence samples could be compromised in those cases.
Chelsea Police, over the past two weeks, have been trying to see if any of those cases could be in their backyard – and it’s the kind investigation that has them banging their heads against the wall in frustration.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the alleged acts of one individual assigned the DPH Crime Lab over of the past several years has cast doubt on the integrity of the entire criminal justice system,” said Chief Brian Kyes. “To say that I am disappointed in these allegations as I understand them is an understatement.”
Already this week, DPH Director John Aurbach has resigned from his post due to poor oversight at the lab and the potential consequences that could soon come.
“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,” he wrote in a letter of resignation released to the media. “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. The behaviors of the drug lab chemist and the failure to properly manage and supervise her work are unacceptable.”
What Kyes, District Attorney Dan Conley and scores of other law enforcement authorities are worried about is whether or not hundreds of drug dealers now behind bars might be released en masse to the streets of Chelsea due to deficient testing of the evidence that was painfully collected by police and successfully used by prosecutors.
So far, no one is quite sure just how far the situation might reach, nor are they sure just how many cases could potentially be overturned.
Suffolk DA Spokesman Jake Wark said that, so far, there haven’t been any red-flagged cases ripe for a second look in Chelsea. He said that, so far, only a handful in Boston have risen to the surface immediately.
However, Chief Kyes has indicated that his drug detectives have been scouring case files going back several years. During that search, they have uncovered the fact that Dookhan was the chemist on a number of those cases. That will likely mean that every case she handled will have to be reconsidered and re-examined.
“As a Police Chief who interacts directly with this specific lab and depends on timely and accurate analysis of all our drug submissions in order to ensure successful criminal prosecutions I am extremely concerned,” said Kyes. “We are going to do everything we can on our end to conduct a comprehensive audit of all of our past and current drug cases involving this lab to ensure that no cases were compromised. We will continue to work very closely with the MSP and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to ensure that every individual subjected to prosecutions as a result of any alleged evidence tampering in any form or fashion has received due process of the law as they are certainly entitled by our State and United States Constitutions.”