Chemist in lab scandal told investigators: ‘I messed up bad’
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.
Brian Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.