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Massachusetts crime lab tech who faked drug tests was sole 'bad actor': state

Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute, listens to the judge during her arraignment at Brockton Superior C
Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute, listens to the judge during her arraignment at Brockton Superior C

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - A former Massachusetts state crime-lab chemist who admitted to faking drug test results was the sole "bad actor" at the facility, but lax management allowed her to carry on for nine years, an official review released on Tuesday concluded.

In a case that shook the foundations of the state's criminal justice system, chemist Annie Dookhan last year acknowledged faking tests on evidence in drug cases involving some 40,000 people from 2002 to 2011.

More than 300 people convicted of drug violations have been released from prison as a result.

A review by the state's Inspector General found that there had been warning signs throughout Dookhan's tenure at the Boston lab, which is now closed. In her first two years on the job, she tested more than 8,000 samples a year, more than double her next-most productive colleague.

Her high output was the result of "dry-labbing," using only visual inspections rather than chemical tests to confirm that cocaine or other illegal narcotics seized by police were what investigators said they were.

Four of Dookhan's colleagues at the lab raised concerns about her methods and one went so far as to keep track of her use of reagents and microscope slides because of his suspicions, the report found.

"One significant red flag that Dookhan's supervisors ignored was her spectacular productivity, particularly after ... (a 2009) U.S. Supreme Court case that required forensic drug chemists to testify in court about their test results, when the productivity of all other Drug Lab chemists precipitously declined," the report found.

The report concluded that a lax management environment at the lab allowed Dookhan to make her own rules, but also noted that inadequate funding made it a struggle for the facility to keep up with the number of samples it was asked to test.

It found that Dookhan was no more likely than her colleagues who used scientific tests to label samples as containing illegal narcotics, striking down the idea that she had been trying to help prosecutors.

Matthew Segal, ACLU of Massachusetts legal director, called the case the biggest criminal justice scandal in the state: "It is now impossible for anyone to claim, with any seriousness, that they know which Hinton Lab defendants, if any, got due process when they were convicted."

Dookhan was sentenced in November to three to five years in prison after pleading guilty to charges including tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice and perjury for falsely claiming to have a master's degree in chemistry.

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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