BOSTON - After meeting with prosecutors to calm concerns about his administration’s handling of the crisis, Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday suggested disciplinary actions stemming from the mishandling of thousands of drug samples at a state crime lab could be handed down within days.
“You’re going to hear a lot more about that before the end of the week,” Patrick said after being asked by reporters what he was doing about delays in the reporting to his office of breaches in protocol at a state crime lab in Jamaica Plain. He gave the same response when asked if people would lose their jobs.
Patrick attended a portion of a closed meeting yesterday with district attorneys, Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan and Attorney General Martha Coakley to discuss the path forward for identifying drug cases that may have been tainted by the mishandling of evidence by a state chemist.
The governor ordered the crime lab, one of 18 labs at Department of Public Health’s William A. Hinton Laboratory, shut down two weeks ago after it was revealed that a chemist may have improperly handled thousands of evidence samples used to prosecute drug crimes.
Control of the crime lab was recently shifted to the State Police, and testing since the lab was shut down has been moved to the State Police Crime Lab in Sudbury. An administration official said there are no immediate plans to reopen the Jamaica Plain lab. Bigby and Heffernan are preparing reports for Patrick looking into how the transgressions were allowed to happen, and why it took so long for information to travel up the chain of command.
Those reports could be available before the end of the week, according to an administration official.
Patrick said he proposed and the district attorneys “seem open to the idea” of setting up a “war room” to sift through the 60,000 samples and 34,000 cases worked on by the chemist since 2002 to try to link the samples to individual defendants starting with those who might be incarcerated now.
“I’ve proposed that we create a kind of boiler room or war room with some folks who can work through with the documents and information from different agencies to make sure we get a comprehensive list,” Patrick said.
The Patrick administration has already released a list of drug samples handled by the rogue chemist, identified by prosecutors as Annie Dookhan, and names associated with those samples, but Patrick said that list now must be matched against cases and individual dispositions.
“We prioritize, I hope, those people who may be incarcerated right now because they have a critical liberty interest, but we don’t want to limit it to there. It’s just where we’d start,” Patrick said.
The district attorneys wrote to Patrick last week expressing their frustration at the lack of information provided by the Patrick administration. “Due to the barebones nature of the enormous list we were given, we still do not know exactly how many actual cases these tens of thousands of samples correlate to or which of these samples connects to cases where someone is presently incarcerated and whose liberty literally hangs in the balance,” Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe wrote in a Sept. 6 letter.
Patrick said sorting through the information will require the effort and cooperation of not just his administration, but prosecutors, defense attorney and the courts.
“I can tell you all of the district attorneys, the attorney general and all of the folks who work with me are determined to see that justice is done,” Patrick said.