The chemist at the center of the state drug lab scandal carried on an unauthorized, sometimes personal, e-mail and phone correspondence with a prosecutor whose drug evidence she analyzed, a violation of office protocol that may give defense attorneys even more ammunition to throw out drug convictions involving Annie Dookhan’s work.
Though State Police have concluded that Dookhan was not romantically involved with Norfolk Assistant District Attorney George Papachristos, Dookhan’s husband was suspicious. At one point, Dookhan’s husband tried repeatedly to contact a startled Papachristos, according to someone involved in the investigation, apparently out of concern that the two were having an affair.
The tone in the dozens of e-mails between the two was sometimes quite familiar, according to the person who has read them. Dookhan opened up about her life, confiding in one e-mail that she was unhappy in her marriage, though it is unclear from a printout of the e-mails whether she sent it. On another occasion, Papachristos reminded her that their relationship was strictly “professional” in response to something Dookhan wrote.
The correspondence, which dates back to 2009, was unusual enough that State Police investigating drug lab misconduct recently interviewed Papachristos about their relationship. Lab protocol calls for prosecutors to communicate through lab supervisors to avoid any question about the integrity of drug evidence, something Dookhan has acknowledged she should have done.
The American Civil Liberties Union has asked Attorney General Martha Coakley and the district attorneys to agree to throw out all drug cases “involving a police officer or prosecutor who, at any time, communicated directly with Annie Dookhan.”
“Chemists aren’t supposed to be doing favors on a case-by-case basis for a particular police officer or prosecutor,” said Matthew R. Segal, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts. “That’s a good rule, no matter who the chemist is.”
Dookhan wrote e-mails and spoke on the phone with other prosecutors, the person involved with the investigation said, but the correspondence with Papachristos stood out.
Papachristos declined to answer questions, but his boss, Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey, said Papachristos told him that he and Dookhan had no personal relationship.
“George never socially met her or had a relationship with her,” said Morrissey, who took office in 2011. “He met her once in court, and she never testified in any of his cases.”
However, Morrissey admitted that he has seen only a few e-mails, and he has refused repeated efforts by investigators to provide him with copies of the rest of the correspondence, because they are “the subject of an ongoing investigation” by Coakley and “I don’t want to interfere.”
Several state officials and prosecutors expressed confusion over Morrissey’s refusal to accept the e-mails, noting that he should know if one of his subordinates had an inappropriate relationship that could jeopardize cases in his office.
Morrissey also declined to give the Globe the handful of Dookhan-Papachristos e-mails in his possession on the grounds that the case is under investigation.
Dookhan analyzed drug evidence for numerous cases in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham where Papachristos was assigned, including an Oxycodone-dealing conviction obtained by Papachristos that was one of the first to be overturned after allegations against Dookhan became public. It is unclear exactly how frequently Dookhan analyzed evidence for Papachristos, but Papachristos refers to several different cases in his e-mails.
Dookhan’s lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the e-mails.
As much as anything, the e-mails may offer insight into the mind of Dookhan, who has admitted to State Police that she falsified and mishandled drug evidence, potentially jeopardizing up to 34,000 drug cases she took part in during her nine-year career at the Jamaica Plain lab. She faces criminal charges on accusations of stating that a drug sample contained cocaine when it did not, resulting in the defendant’s conviction. She is also accused of falsely claiming she had a master’s degree in chemistry.
Many have wondered what would possess the bright, hardworking 34-year-old mother of a young son to behave so recklessly.
In the e-mails, Dookhan sent Papachristos chatty messages punctuated by exclamation points, according to the person involved in the investigation who has read the messages.
There is no suggestion in the correspondence that he asked her to alter results or provide other favors, but Dookhan had a reputation in the lab for being especially close to Norfolk prosecutors.
Gloria Phillips, an evidence officer, told police that Dookhan “always wanted Norfolk County” cases to analyze.
Dookhan appeared to be doing a favor for Norfolk law enforcement officials when she was caught in June 2011 taking evidence from 60 Norfolk drug cases out of a storage area without authorization. Her former supervisor, Elizabeth O’Brien, told State Police Dookhan had taken cases out of order and did not sign them out as required.
Dookhan’s co-workers told State Police that she was going through a “long divorce” from her husband, though the two still live together in Franklin. O’Brien added that Dookhan was “going through some personal problems.”
In summer 2009, Papachristos told Dookhan with some alarm that her husband had tried to contact him repeatedly, though they did not speak.
“I have to tell my bosses,” Papachristos told Dookhan. “Tell him not to call again.”
US Representative William R. Keating, who was Norfolk district attorney at the time, declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
However, Morrissey said Papachristos raised concerns to his supervisor at least once about one e-mail he received from Dookhan.
Dookhan and Papachristos continued to correspond for two years after that, including for five months after June 2011 when Dookhan’s supervisors say they removed her from doing drug analysis because of questions about her handling of evidence. At one point, Papachristos asks Dookhan how she likes her “promotion,” apparently unaware that she has been removed from drug analysis because of questions about her integrity.
Later in the year, Dookhan asked Papachristos about his Thanksgiving celebration.
Dookhan stressed that she worked alone and that no prosecutors urged her to break the rules.
Nonetheless, Segal said Dookhan’s direct contact with prosecutors, without following proper protocol, should be grounds for dismissal of cases, suggesting the prosecutors knew that she would do what they wanted — give them the evidence they needed for drug convictions — without even asking.
“Would they have called if they had any doubt about what her answer would be? She reportedly was the only person at the lab who would take these calls” from prosecutors and police, said Segal in an interview. “You’ve seen the TV shows. Everyone else says, ‘I can’t get you that result right away, there’s a procedure.’ She alone says, ‘I can get you these results right away.’ The reason was reportedly by making [the results] up.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scott Allen can be reached at email@example.com.