DA ‘appalled’ by drug lab scandal

September 14, 2012
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The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office has received a list of over 60,000 drug samples that were tested by the former chemist whose mishandling of samples caused the recent closure of the Jamaica Plain state drug laboratory. District Attorney Dan Conley said he was “stunned and appalled” about the case.

Gov. Deval Patrick ordered the closure of the lab, which is inside the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute at 305 South St., on Aug. 30.

“Like most people, I was stunned and appalled by the revelations of what happened at the Department of Public Health’s drug lab in Jamaica Plain,” Conley said in an statement to the Gazette.

He added, “If there were any miscarriages of justice due to this chemist or anyone else at the DPH lab, they need to be corrected.”

Conley said the state Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPSS) has provided his office with a list of over 60,000 drug samples that were tested by the former chemist during employment at DPH from 2003-2012. He said the samples “don’t correlate directly to cases, so we are trying to figure out how many cases and defendants were affected.”

Asked how the public can have faith in the judicial process, Conley responded, “The core values of the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office are to do our work with the highest sense of integrity, honesty and fair play. What occurred in the DPH lab was the antithesis of these values. It was a major failure.”

He said the top priority of his office is to ensure justice is done, but for that to happen, it has to be the top priority for Patrick and those executive agencies where the problem began.

“Until we receive a complete report on the nature and extent of this breach of protocol, we cannot take the steps necessary to correct the injustices that may have occurred,” said Conley.

The State Police took over the supervision of the JP lab from the state Department of Public Health (DPH) on July 1 in a move ordered by Patrick’s budget. As the State Police reviewed the lab’s operations, they discovered that “problems” found in an internal DPH investigation were “more widespread than originally thought,” according to State Police spokesperson David Procopio.

Procopio said that the investigation will continue however long it takes to do a thorough investigation. He said he does not believe there is any cost to the state for closing the lab. The work that was being conducted at the JP lab has been transferred to a state lab in Sudbury.

The JP facility also contains several other programs, such as the state food protection program, the state infectious disease bureau, the state racing commission laboratory and the University of Massachusetts biologic laboratories, according to the DPH website.

It appears these programs remain in operation. DPH did not respond to a request for comment.

Procopio said that EOPSS has engaged the state’s district attorneys, the U.S. Attorney and members of the defense bar to discuss how they may work together to identify cases that may have been impacted by the former chemist under investigation.

“Together, we recognize the seriousness of this situation and are committed to ensuring the fair administration of justice in the Commonwealth,” said Procopio.

He also added that as part of the investigation, an internal review has been launched at DPH and two supervisors have been put on leave pending the outcome of the review.

“We will continue to enlist the help of all stakeholders as we work to get to the bottom of what went wrong, hold those responsible accountable and prevent a breach like this from happening in the future,” said Procopio.