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

I have been monitoring the work of The Boston Globe and others about this. It is simply so very shocking. It is beyond alarming. It is, simply put, the single worst forensic science laboratory scandal in recorded history.

I give you Annie Dookhan.

I predict that this scandal is only going to get worse.

Much, much worse.

This scandal is going to be the worst one in recorded history.

She lied. She lied about her resume. Training she never had. She lied about having a Masters degree. She lied for a reason. She lied to make things better for her.

Why did she do it? To get a job.

It is quite clear she drylabbed too.
Why did she do it? The State Police report paints a very sad picture of someone whose life was falling apart. Miscarriage. Divorce. A boss yelling at her about throughput issues. Most crime laboratories that I know keep better stats about the numbers that a given technician processes, than baseball teams do about their players. She was not keeping up with her peers. In the beginning, I don’t think that she was out to consciously hurt anyone. She just wanted the yelling to stop. She just wanted to keep her job as she was now divorced and in financial ruin. So it likely started with one day, one test that was dry-labbed. She crossed that invisible line.

And you know what?

Nothing happened.

That’s right nothing happened.
Life moved on.
No alarms went off.
No one was any the wiser.

Why did this happen?
In that laboratory, as I am given to believe, there was a 2 chemist system (a primary chemist who did the initial screen tests and crystallography and a secondary chemist who did the GC-MS work) but no Quality Assurance (QA) officer actually looking at the data generated or if there was any data generated at all. There was no double-checker.

So then, as the sun came up the next day, she went to work. The boss likely yelled at her for throughput deficiencies. She felt her job was in jeopardy. So, she did it again. Again, no one caught her. She finally made quota. The next day the boss didn’t yell. She liked that. She drylabbed more to become the top technician as measured by throughput. Now she was being praised. Other analysts were asked “Why can’t you be more like Annie?” She was rewarded. She kept her job. Her supervisors liked her. As the State Police report shows, her supervisors simply ignored any negative feedback from her peers (and even straight forward reports of drylabbing) because she got the job done. She processed samples.

It’s simple biofeedback.

Much like the prototypical embezzler. The crime is committed first in a small scale: “I’ll take just enough this one time to make the mortgage/rent.” Then, when the embezzler is not caught, the thought becomes “I can take some more and no one will notice.” Then like all things, greed takes over with most embezzlers. It turns into the secretary who only makes $25,000 a year on the books owning a  several hundred thousand dollar yacht. Then the business owner whose funds were embezzled throws up his or her hands saying “OMG! How did this happen?”

In both these cases, it is simple. Insufficient checks and balances.

If you are a criminal defense attorney, you and no one else serve as that last, best, and final line in the justice chain.

This is why I and many others here espouse the mantra: ALWAYS GET THE DATA. Not just the conclusory report. But rather the underlying data. I mean this in every single case. Even if you think it is a sure fire guilty plea.

Here is why you must: Annie Dookhan.

I don’t care if you don’t know what it is or what it means, you always must get the data.
In the case of Annie Dookhan, for many of her cases, there was no data at all. Zero. Zippo. None.
If the attorneys who plead out the 34,000 cases of hers had simply asked for the data, then maybe, just maybe this would have been discovered earlier.

Always, get the data!

Chemist in lab scandal told investigators: ‘I messed up bad’

By Brian Ballou and Andrea Estes, Globe Staff

The former state chemist at the heart of the state drug lab scandal admitted to investigators that she improperly removed evidence from storage, forged colleagues’ signatures, and didn’t perform proper tests on drugs for “two or three years,” according to a copy of a State Police report obtained by the Globe.

Annie Dookhan, whose misconduct may have jeopardized evidence in about 34,000 drug cases, also admitted that she recorded drug tests as positive when they were negative “a few times” and sometimes tested only a small sample of the drug batch that she was supposed to analyze.

“I messed up. I messed up bad. It’s my fault,” she told the state troopers who visited her Franklin home on Aug. 28, insisting that she acted alone. “I don’t want the lab to get in trouble.”

However, the troopers’ interviews with other chemists in the lab make clear that Dookhan’s colleagues had concerns about her unusually large caseload and lab habits and raised them with supervisors. But the supervisors took little action even when they learned that she had forged other chemists’ initials on some drug samples.

The police report marks the first time that the public has heard from Dookhan in her own words. What emerges is a picture of a woman who may have suffered an emotional breakdown and who had been under suspicion for cutting corners in the lab for at least two years. When the troopers confronted her with the evidence of wrongdoing, Dookhan confessed again and again.

At one point, when troopers suggested Dookhan should speak to her husband about getting a lawyer, Dookhan said that she was going through serious marital problems and had no money to hire one.

After the interview, State Police were so concerned about Dookhan’s state of mind that they called to make sure she was not suicidal, according to the report.

Detective Lieutenant Robert Irwin, a trooper assigned to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, asked Dookhan if she ever thought “bad thoughts.”

“She said that the harm she was causing people would go through her mind every now and then,” Irwin wrote in his report. “I then asked her if she had thought of harming herself. She said no.”

The state lab in Jamaica Plain was closed in August after State Police discovered the potential magnitude of Dookhan’s actions. As a state chemist for nine years, Dookhan handled 60,000 drug samples and sometimes provided expert testimony in court.

So far, Dookhan has not been charged with any crime. Coakley’s office is trying to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing by Dookhan or others.

Already, at least 20 drug defendants have been freed, had their bail reduced, or had their sentences suspended because the evidence in their cases was analyzed by Dookhan. And many more are likely to be freed: Governor Deval Patrick’s investigators have identified 1,141 inmates in state prisons or county jails in cases based on evidence handled by Dookhan.

Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey has called the Dookhan case “one of the largest criminal snafus in the history of the Commonwealth.”

But until now, Dookhan, the 34-year-old-mother at the heart of the debacle, has not been heard from, declining comment and remaining largely out of public view. In fact, she made it clear to Irwin that she didn’t understand why the media was interested in her.

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