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September 13, 2012

Governor says disciplinary actions forthcoming in crime lab scandal

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.

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