The state’s criminal justice system was rocked Aug. 30 by the news that a chemist, identified by prosecutors as Annie Dookhan, had mishandled evidence from 2003 into 2012, a period in which she was involved in 34,000 cases.
The William A. Hinton Laboratory, located next to the Arnold Arboretum, was run by the Department of Public Health until this summer when it was transferred to the State Police to streamline testing for criminal cases.
“In preparation for the transfer of the lab, we started reviewing the operation of the lab,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio. That led to an investigation into a chemist, that now involves “looking into potential criminality” by her, Procopio told the News Service. The state shuttered the lab on Aug. 30.
According to the district attorneys, a past “violation of protocol” was reported several months after it occurred by DPH. “We cannot have a repeat of the episode in February 2012 where the Department of Public Health notified the Norfolk District Attorney [William Morrissey] by letter of a violation of protocol that had occurred in June of 2011,” the letter said.
O’Keefe told the News Service that he had no idea there were such massive problems with the lab until the night of Aug. 29 when the problem was briefly laid out ahead of a midday emergency meeting the next day with district attorneys and state officials.
“That’s when we learned anecdotally the scope of what was known about the issue at that time,” O’Keefe said.
According to the DA’s letter, after the June 2011 violation, DPH wrote that “the integrity of the tests was not jeopardized as a result of the procedural violation.”
“This information, we now come to know, was false,” the letter states. “That the District Attorneys litigated motions to suppress evidence tested at the DPH Laboratory based upon information provided by DPH that is now known to be false was not only a potential violation of the rights of defendants but an affront to the integrity of the State’s prosecutors.”