Former state chemist Annie Dookhan pleaded not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court today to 27 indictments for allegedly mishandling and tainting drug evidence, including one case where she claimed to have tested a drug sample that wasn’t even in her laboratory at the time.
Dookhan, 35, is at the center of one of the largest law enforcement scandals in recent Massachustts history and her alleged misdeeds in the now closed state drug laboratory in Jamaica Plain may impact tens of thousands of cases and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Today, Dookhan pleaded not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to 27 indictments that allege she deliberately mishandled evidence she was supposed to verify were illegal drugs. and for falsely claiming to have a master’s degree from UMass-Boston.
Dookhan has been free on $10,000 cash bail when she faced a preliminary round of charges and has also been under a 6 p.m. curfew. Today, her attorney Nicholas Gordon, said in court that Dookhan’s social life has been impacted by the limitation and asked that it be set at 10 p.m., a request that was granted.
Dookhan, dressed in black slacks, a dark blue blouse and a black coat, stood before Trial Magistrate Gary Wilson and in a soft tone uttered “not guilty’’ as the court clerk read off the charges. She left the courthouse holding hands with her husband, Surrendranath Dookhan, without commenting.
Her attorney, Nicholas Gordon, declined comment, saying he has not had a chance to review the evidence in the case.
The indictments, involving 22 defendants overall, allege that Dookhan altered drug tests in six cases and improperly removed drug samples from the evidence room in another, forging a colleague’s initials to cover up her misconduct. She faces an additional 17 counts of obstruction of justice in cases from counties across Eastern Massachusetts, including Suffolk, Plymouth, Middlesex, Norfolk, Essex, and Bristol.
Each count of tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice carries up to 10 years in state prison. The single perjury count carries up to 20 years in prison. Lying about her degree is a misdemeanor, carrying up to 2½ years in county jail.
Dookhan allegedly “dry labbed’’ seized drugs, which means she falsely certified that she tested samples when, in fact, she had merely made a visual examination. In papers filed in court today, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office alleged that Dookhan certified she had completed testing on some drug samples – six months after the evidence was sent back to the investigating police agency.
During Dookhan’s nine years at the lab, authorities allege, a second chemist would test the same sample as Dookhan and come up with a different result. When the samples were sent back to Dookhan, she allegedly tampered with them to make them match her inaccurate results.
Dookhan worked for the Department of Public Health from 2003 until she resigned under pressure in March. She was the lab’s most productive chemist before she breached the chain of custody in June 2011 by removing 90 samples from the lab’s evidence room without signing them out.
She continued to work in the lab after the protocol violation, though she was barred from doing actual testing. And she continued to testify in cases almost until the day she was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 21.
Prosecutors, defense lawyers, and state officials believe her actions may have undermined tens of thousands of cases that were prosecuted during her career, imposing an enormous cost to review and potentially retry many of the cases. Prosecutors, the Committee on Public Counsel Services, municipal governments, and social service agencies have already requested millions of dollars to deal with increased caseloads, and Patrick has requested $30 million to manage the crisis.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said last week that 159 defendants statewide had been released to the streets so far in the drug lab scandal, and eight have been rearrested.