Chemist pleads Fifth in drug case
Some of Annie Dookhan’s former co-workers are expected to testify publicly for the first time Thursday about the inner workings of the closed Jamaica Plain lab where Dookhan is accused of mishandling evidence, when they are called as prosecution witnesses during the drug possession trial of Shawn Drumgold.
On Wednesday, Drumgold’s attorney, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, wanted Dookhan, who was a chemist at the now-closed drug lab, to explain why her initials appear on lab notes from three tests done in Drumgold’s case.
But in a hearing in Roxbury Municipal Court to determine whether Drumgold’s case should be thrown out because of Dookhan’s involvement, Dookhan appeared with her attorney, Nicholas Gordon, and invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Scapicchio contends that Dookhan tested the suspected crack cocaine and heroin that Boston police allege Drumgold was selling in January 2011.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office, sharply disputed Scapicchio’s assertions that Dookhan participated in the drug testing in the case.
“She was an employee at the lab,’’ Wark said. “She signed off the drug certificate as a notary public. Only.’’
Dookhan is free on $10,000 cash bail after pleading not guilty last month to two counts of obstruction of justice and falsely claiming to have a master’s degree in chemistry.
Authorities fear that she may have tainted the evidence in some 34,000 criminal cases during her nine-year career at the Department of Public Health and have placed her former co-workers on administrative leave with pay while they investigate Dookhan, the lab, and its employees.
Scapicchio said the chemists have to explain “why Annie Dookhan’s initials appear on some worksheets that relate to this case and list her as the confirmatory chemist when her name doesn’t appear anywhere’’ in the final paperwork sent to law enforcement from the Jamaica Plain lab.
The attorney for the five chemists, James McDonagh, said the Drumgold trial is the first time his clients have been subpoenaed as witnesses since the drug lab scandal broke this year. Dookhan handled some 60,000 drug samples and has admitted to State Police that she manipulated results in some tests in the last “two or three years.”
On Wednesday, McDonagh said all five chemists were willing and ready to testify.
He said there have been no allegations of misdeeds against his clients and there would be no reason for them not to answer questions.
“There may be a perception, but there is no misperformance or malfeasance with these people at all,” McDonagh said.
He added that the problem at the Jamaica Plain lab was limited to Dookhan. “This is a one-situation, one-person” problem, he said.
McDonagh said his clients are anxious to get back to their jobs. “They are waiting to go back to work,” he said. “That’s all they are waiting to do. They want to go back.”
Only one witness took the stand at the start of Drumgold’s trial Wednesday, Boston police Detective Jean Moise Acloque, who said Drumgold was arrested when police raided a Roxbury home and found him near seven bags of heroin and 12 bags of crack cocaine discovered in the kitchen.
Acloque also testified that Drumgold was not the target of the raid, that a man in his 70s who uses a wheelchair was the focus of the investigation. But under ferocious questioning by Scapicchio, Acloque said officers knew that Drumgold had won a $14 million judgment from the city for civil rights violations and that they had charged Drumgold because he was standing closest to the drugs when police went into the kitchen.
Drumgold was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1988 slaying of 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore, who was shot while sitting on a mailbox on a Roxbury street. Drumgold served 15 years behind bars, but had his conviction overturned when The Boston Globe and Scapicchio raised questions about the investigation and the failure of police to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence about a key eyewitness in the case.
Scapicchio said Drumgold has not yet been paid the $14 million judgment because the City of Boston has appealed the verdict to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Wark said in a statement Thursday that though Drumgold did not receive a fair trial, he was not exonerated in Moore’s killing. Drumgold also admitted to facts sufficient for a conviction on cocaine and heroin possession charges in West Roxbury District Court in 2006 and Dorchester District Court in 2009, Wark said.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino planned to sit down Thursday with public safety officials to discuss how to prepare for the flood of inmates that could be released from prison because of potentially tainted drug evidence. The meeting at City Hall, which is expected to include Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, will focus on strategies to help inmates reenter society.
“We believe it will have a major impact on our city,” Menino said Wednesday. “The district attorney has been talking about 500 to 700 individuals will be released from incarceration, released on the streets of our city.”