State drug testing lab in JP shut down
BOSTON (WHDH) -- A state drug testing lab in Jamaica Plain, where several major local police departments send their evidence, has been shut down because of improprieties.
The lab handles 8,000 cases a year, meaning thousands of convictions and arrests could possibly be jeopardized.
State police said the improprieties were caused by one former employee, a chemist, who worked at the crime lab since 2003.
An investigation of the lab began in June 2011, but it is evidence that came to light in recent days that caused Gov. Deval Patrick to call for the lab to close on Thursday.
“Our concern has to be for any kind of miscarriage of justice that’s occurred as a result of this particular employee’s malfeasance,” said a Mass. State Police official at a press conference Thursday.
The former employee who allegedly circumvented procedures and dismissed lab protocols, likely testified as an expert witness at trials for which she handled the drugs. Officials believe the former employee purposefully tampered with test results and that people may be wrongly incarcerated or prosecuted based on bad drug tests.
Both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys are are acknowledging that this could lead to retrying cases going back ten years.
“That’s going to take thousands of hours of attorney time to undo these wrongs,” said Nancy Bennett, a deputy Chief Counsel for the state public defender.
The suspect’s husband released a statement that said, “My wife maintains her innocence…more than one person was involved in botching a drug procedure. We believe it’s co-workers who are trying to create a scapegoat. She was asked to resign in April.”
However, police believe that the suspect was the only employee to alter drug tests.
Uncovering the former employee’s motives will be a matter of investigation and the exact number of cases impacted by this breach is currently unknown. She will likely face criminal charges.
District attorneys must reexamine cases one by one to see which cases the former chemist was involved in.
“This is deeply troubling information. No breach this serious can or will be tolerated…I have directed the State Police to close the lab until they can ensure me, the judicial system and the public of the integrity of its work,” read a statement released by Gov. Deval Patrick Thursday.
The Department of Public Health also released a statement, which read, “The division director previously in charge of the lab has been put on leave pending a state police investigation.”
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