Testing backlog may have set stage for drug lab scandal

FOREST HILLS—Scores of convicts may go free due to former drug-testing chemist Annie Dookhan’s alleged evidence-tampering at the State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain. But a decade ago, there was controversy over many criminal defendants going free because of an opposite problem at the State Lab: drug evidence not being processed at all due to a massive workload backlog.

The drug lab backlog controversy in 2001 may have set the stage for Dookhan’s alleged evidence-tampering. Dookhan, who was hired two years later, developed a reputation as the lab’s “Superwoman,” plowing through an incredible number of cases and having a cozy relationship with Norfolk County prosecutors, according to State Police interviews with her and her colleagues recently published by the Boston Globe.

In the 2001 controversy, prosecutors complained that defendants were getting low bail, or even having criminal charges dismissed, because drug lab test results were unavailable in time for court hearings, according to a Globe report at the time. State Lab officials said at the time that they were understaffed and overworked.

Police and prosecutors have said they do not know Dookhan’s motive for the alleged evidence-tampering. The State Police interviews depict her as having various personal crises and an eagerness to please authorities. She completed so many lab tests that some colleagues suspected her of falsifying them. But she remained on the job despite supervisors being informed of various suspicions and odd incidents, according to the State Police interviews.

The State Police allege that Dookhan tampered with evidence in various ways, including declaring substances were drugs without testing them, and adding known illegal drugs to test samples. She also allegedly forged documents to make it appear that colleagues had assisted her or checked her work when they had not.

The drug lab inside the larger State Lab facility at 305 South St. was shut down by the State Police earlier this year.

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