The Fukushima of Forensics: Annie Dookhan

We have blogged before on the Annie Dookhan scandal:

The poster child for everything that is wrong in forensic science: Annie Dookhan

It is amazing the state of forensic science in the courtroom. Judges still routinely deny discovery motions for scientific data, validation studies and even basic scientific data. They justify this stating that a conculsory report that states an opinion is good enough. Blind trust. Further, it is troubling to me that there still appears to be a debate about the need for actual confrontation in court of the folks who actually do the analysis.

Defense attorneys do not get data. We get simple conclusory statements that state a scientific opinion, but is couched and phrased as an absolute with no meaningful scientific explanation as to how the conclusory opinion was formed.

All of this leads towards a grand statement:

Just because the result came from a laboratory does not mean it comes from the Almighty.

I frequently tell judges and prosecutors: Trust but verify.

It’s ok to trust the crime laboratory, but it is incumbent upon us to verify.

Why not stipulate to a forensic science result?

I have been interviewed by CNN, ABC, Nature, CE&N and The Boston Globe about this developing epic scandal. The picture is becoming clearer.

And it is just horrible! Shades of a Fukushima like disaster in forensics.

Annie Dookhan arrested
Annie Dookhan arrested

I have been repeatedly commenting on the complete lack of oversight in that laboratory. In all pharmaceutical laboratories as well as all highly regulated laboratories have a Quality Assurance (QA) Officer. Not so in this laboratory. Also, few crime laboratories have a well-qualified and totally independent QA Officer.

See related posts:

After fully reading the State Police report obtained by the Globe, the following has been discovered:
General matters of concern surrounding the crime laboratory:
  • This crime laboratory was set up as a two chemist system but with no QA officer. There was a primary chemist who did the initial screen tests (colormetric) and crystallography and a secondary chemist who did the GC-MS work. However, there was no double-checking of the work by those two chemists or among each other. There was no QA officer actually looking at the data generated or if there was any data generated at all. There was no double-checker.
  • Despite documented direct complaints from coworkers, supervisors did nothing, This included:
  • ——Multiple accounts that fellow bench workers in the laboratory never saw Dookhan use the microscope at all while she continued to report results as a primary chemist performing crystallography testing (which requires microscopy)
  • ——Co-workers complained that Dookhan was forging their signatures.
  • ——Others complained about her lack of documentation.
  • ——Others complained about her questionable laboratory results.
  • Frequently, Dookhan was allowed to be both the primary chemist and the secondary chemist on the same sample. This was clearly against written laboratory procedures and policy.
  • Dookhan was allowed to train others in QC procedures although she was not qualified to do so.
  • When chemists were audited, there is confusion as to whether or not it was a full retest of samples or simply a paper audit.
  • There was no record of how samples could be resubmitted, and the number of these retests were not tracked. In other words, they just simply retested until they got the result they wanted with all “non-conforming” results not disclosed and records destroyed. Only the “agreeable” results were saved.
  • The evidence room and evidence safe were readily accessible to chemists even when they were alone.
  • The evidence room procedures to restrict access were ignored and circumvented. The safe could be opened by either a palm reader or a key. The key was left in the keyhole as a normal practice. The safe was found open on numerous occasions. The safe was left unattended. It routinely was left propped open when it was “busy.” It was accessible by codes and keys that had not been changed in over a decade. Chemists had keys to the lab which also were capable of opening the evidence safe. Further, the palm reader access point to the evidence room might not have been recording those who entered.
Matters specific to Dookhan:
  • As a primary chemist, Dookhan dry labbed. Instead of doing any sort of scientific process she would simply look at the samples instead of testing them and form a conclusion and report it out.
  • When she dry labbed many samples came back as heroin when she had supposedly tested it and found it to be cocaine and vice versa.  She would then alter these original seized samples so that they would come out the way she wanted. She would purposefully contaminate them.
  • Dookhan was a throughput master. She often analyzing more samples in a week than they did in a month. [This level of “production” should have concerned everyone.]
  • Dookhan forged Quality Control documents.
  • Dookhan would routinely forge the signature of other analysts, chemists, and shockingly evidence officer initials. She never kept track in what cases she did this.
  • Dookhan failed to follow basic laboratory procedures. This included failing to calibrate balances. She routinely failed to fill out basic chain of custody documents.
  • When working as the preliminary chemist, he ignored laboratory procedures by loading and running her own samples on the GC-MS rather than turning them over to the secondary chemist. [Justin’s note: This is how she very easily dry labbed]
  • Dookhan repeatedly failed to properly run QC test samples.
  • Dookhan literally made up QC results recording them in the “Quality Control Daily Injector Test on the GC/MS.”
  • When she was the primary chemist, she would handle the aliquots of the samples in a poor manner that would foster cross contamination. She would keep racks upon racks of sample vials out in the open on her bench top.
  • She was suspended.
  • Even while she was suspended and prohibited from doing any active work,  she did.
  • Even while she was suspended and prohibited from doing any active work, she had access to the evidence office computers.
  • Dookhan was alone in the evidence locker on occasion which was against laboratory rules.
  • Dookhan became the “go to” chemist of choice by district attorneys. She would routinely receive direct calls from them. She would prioritize those requested items and received extraneous information about the case so as to skew her opinion.
  • She lied about having a Masters Degree.
  • She lied about a lot of her training.

One response to “The Fukushima of Forensics: Annie Dookhan”

  • Angela Pierce says:

    Thanks for publishing these. I find this case fascinating and disturbing. The implications are endless. I read the entire police report. I hope that some of the people in this report will also be scrutinized.

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