The former state chemist whose alleged wrongdoing has undermined the integrity of thousands of drug convictions across Eastern Massachusetts was arrested and brought before a judge Friday to face charges that she falsified reports and lied about her professional credentials.
Annie Dookhan, a 34-year-old mother of a young son, was escorted by State Police from her Franklin home in handcuffs just before noon Friday, just one day after Governor Deval Patrick predicted criminal charges in a scandal that has already led to the release of or reduced bail for at least 20 drug defendants.
She was released from a Boston courthouse later in the afternoon after her family posted $10,000 cash bail.
Dookhan, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and standing just 4 feet 11 inches tall, seemed overwhelmed by the attention she received in her brief court hearing. As her distraught parents and friends looked on, she was charged with two counts of falsifying drug reports by saying evidence was cocaine when it was not. She was also charged with falsely stating that she holds a master’s degree in chemistry.
Dookhan faces up to 10 years in prison on some of the charges, and there could be more: Authorities said an investigation into her alleged wrongdoing is only beginning.
“Annie Dookhan’s alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said at an afternoon news conference to announce the charges. “This kind of action affects the whole system. . . . Her actions totally turned the system on its head.”
Dookhan has allegedly admitted to rampant violations of lab procedures, raising doubts about the 60,000 drug tests she performed during her nine years in the Jamaica Plain lab. Confronted by State Police in August, she signed a confession admitting that she removed evidence from the evidence room without signing it out, forged co-workers’ signatures on reports, and did not do proper testing on drug samples “for about two or three years.”
Dookhan also allegedly confessed that she sometimes added cocaine or heroine to samples she was testing “to make it what I said it was.”
“I messed up bad; it’s my fault,” she told police during the Aug. 28 interview.
Dookhan’s lawyer declined to comment on the case.
At about the time Dookhan was arraigned, a judge in another Boston courtroom was releasing Mylazia Johnson 18 months early from her prison sentence on a drug conviction because Dookhan failed to properly document her role in analyzing the evidence against Johnson.
With the support of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office, Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Connors halted Johnson’s sentence of three years and one day, allowing Johnson to return home to her daughter who was just 4 months old when she was imprisoned.
“While [Dookhan] was on her way in, we were on our way out,” said Kathleen S. Lucey, lawyer for Mylazia Johnson. “This whole thing is mushrooming everywhere.”
Prosecutors expect scenes like that to be repeated for months to come as lawyers review individual cases, prompting the chief justice for the state’s court system to announce plans for a special court to hear challenges of evidence involving Dookhan.
Patrick has also appointed independent lawyer David Meier to coordinate efforts among defense lawyers, prosecutors, and investigators to review the drug samples. His team says 1,141 people are serving drug-related sentences in state prisons and county jails in cases where she was involved in testing the drugs.
Coakley said investigators have not identified a motive for Dookhan’s actions such as a drug habit or a financial problem. She did say, however, that Dookhan had an extraordinary high work rate, and that she appeared to be proud of it, which should have served as a warning to supervisors.
“I think there was clearly a shortcutting of corners, just getting this done as quickly as possible,” the attorney general said.
Dookhan’s family members have said previously that she was being used as a scapegoat, though they did not comment Friday and hurried away from the intense media attention.
The attorney general said that investigators have found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by anyone other than Dookhan, though their investigation is continuing. But several supervisors have resigned because of the scandal, including the former commissioner of the Department of Public Health, John Auerbach.
The State Police report obtained by the Globe Wednesday makes it clear that Dookhan’s direct supervisors were confronted with indications of wrongdoing long before Coakley’s investigation began.
Lab supervisor Elizabeth O’Brien said she confronted Dookhan in June 2010, about falsely claiming to have a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston. According to the police report, Dookhan agreed to remove the master’s degree credential from her resume, but she apparently did not do it and continued to send out resumes saying she had the degree, and testified to the same.
Dookhan’s supervisors finally stopped her from performing drug analysis in June 2011 and she left the Department of Public Health in March 2012.
Patricia A. DeJuneas, a Boston lawyer who represented one of the defendants whose work was analyzed by Dookhan — a case that is now part of the criminal charges against the former chemist — said investigators need to look at why Dookhan was not stopped sooner.
“Right now, I think the focus should be on why her actions went unchecked for so long,” said DeJuneas. “If they had done their job in making sure she was doing her job the right way, a lot of this would not have happened.”
The state Committee for Public Counsel Services, the public defender agency that is representing many of the drug defendants whose cases are at stake, sent a lawyer to Boston Municipal Court Friday to represent Dookhan.
But she had already obtained her own lawyer, Nicolas A. Gordon, of Mansfield. He would not comment Friday, saying the case is high-profile and that he must still review the allegations.
Gordon was a former Norfolk assistant district attorney, who was reprimanded by the state Board of Bar Overseers when working as a defense lawyer years later for implying to a potential client in 2006 that he had the ability to improperly influence his old office.
He said Friday that his history should have no bearing on the case: “I don’t see why this has any relation to my representation of Annie Dookhan in this matter.”
The charges brought on Friday allege that she lied about her credentials during a court hearing and that she falsely certified evidence as being cocaine on two specific occasions. In one case, her misstep was noticed by a co-worker, and in another case, she had identified the substance as cocaine when a police field study showed it was not.
Prosecutors say that she was charged under a state law that forbids misleading “a judge, juror, grand juror, prosecutor, police officer, federal agent, investigator, defense attorney, clerk, court officer, probation officer or parole officer.”
Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Conley, said the charges against Dookhan are “entirely warranted,” but he said it’s only a start.
“There still remains, however, a monumental amount of work here in Suffolk County and elsewhere to address the disaster at the DPH lab,” Wark said.