Annie Dookhan seemed like the answer to Carlton Haynes’s prayers.
The convicted cocaine dealer, 43, had been filing motion after handwritten motion in a vain attempt to get out of the maximum security prison in Walpole. But his luck changed late last August when news broke that Dookhan, a former state chemist, had allegedly mishandled evidence in thousands of drug cases, including his.
Haynes demanded a new trial — “The integrity of our constitution the courts and the liberties of all mankind are at stake,” he wrote — and a judge agreed to release him from his cell 2½ years early as long as he wore a GPS bracelet to monitor his movements.
But it wasn’t long before Haynes started getting into trouble again. And again. And again, including two arrests for selling drugs on Boston Common and an alleged assault on his girlfriend’s young son.
Haynes, now back behind bars, is part of the crime wave that law enforcement officials predicted a year ago when judges began releasing inmates — some with long records of drug-dealing and violence — over concerns about Dookhan’s role in their cases. The only question, said Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis last October, is “how much damage Ms. Dookhan has done to our crime-reduction efforts.”
“A lot of guys want to do the right thing, but there’s nothing for them, so they go back to doing the same thing. Some guys are worse off than if they just stayed in jail.” - Ferdinand Rivera, who was freed from jail but lost his job at a flooring firm after customers saw the GPS device on his ankle and didn’t feel comfortable with him in their home
Now, a Globe analysis shows that the scandal has led to measurably increased crime in cities such as Boston and Brockton. While the Dookhan defendants’ release has not unleashed the tidal wave some feared, offenders returned to the street have already figured in three killings, either as suspects or victims.
One year after the public first learned about the alleged misdeeds of Annie Dookhan, the Globe review of court records shows that more than 600 so-called Dookhan defendants have had convictions against them erased or temporarily set aside, or they’ve been released on bail pending a new trial. Of those, at least 83 have been re-arrested — about 13 percent of the total — and 16 have been arrested more than once for crimes ranging from possessing a pound of cocaine to vandalizing cars outside a Hyannis pub.
Donta Hood of Brockton, who allegedly shot a man to death in a drug dispute, may be the most notorious of the re-arrested, but at least 15 others are accused of new violent crimes, including one who allegedly shot at two state troopers and a passenger in their vehicle. Twenty-three more are facing new drug charges in Suffolk County, home to 61 of the re-arrested Dookhan defendants. Two other released defendants were themselves murdered.
And there may be many more to come. A special counsel to Governor Deval Patrick concluded this week that Dookhan’s negligent or dishonest work as a drug analyst at the Hinton state lab in Jamaica Plain affected more than 40,000 drug defendants in nine years. Though most either never went to jail or have already been released, hundreds remain locked up. Many of those are now clamoring for freedom because of Dookhan’s role in their cases.
To defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the scandal represents the greatest miscarriage of justice in the state in many years, tainting every case Dookhan touched regardless of the defendant’s record.
“Regardless of any other issues Mr. Haynes has, Annie Dookhan’s misconduct and widespread problems at the Hinton drug lab have made it such that Mr. Haynes received an unfair trial and the Commonwealth obtained unfair convictions on these drug charges,” said Haynes’s lawyer , Kathryn Hayne Barnwell.
But the spike in crime since the Dookhan scandal also offers a grim snapshot of the drug war’s revolving door as people who have been handed the ultimate get-out-of-jail card get right back into legal trouble again, sometimes with astonishing speed:
►Rakeem Austin of Dorchester, 27, allegedly broke into three vehicles or residences in a single 24-hour span last November just five weeks after a judge stayed his three-year sentence for cocaine distribution and turned him loose. The GPS he was required to wear as a condition of his release led directly to his arrest, allegedly putting him at the scene of the crime in all three break-ins.
►Dekara Anderson of Dorchester, 38, won his freedom last October when a judge stayed his seven-year sentence for cocaine distribution due to Dookhan’s work with case evidence. Six months later, when Framingham police finally chased Anderson down and tasered him, they say they found a plastic bag full of crack cocaine clenched tightly between his buttocks.
► Enrique Camilo of Roslindale, 39, was already out on bail from a Dookhan-related cocaine trafficking case last October when police recovered almost a pound of cocaine at his home. Camilo was arrested at Logan International Airport as he returned from the Dominican Republic, but he promptly made bail and fled, forfeiting $75,000 in bail. He remains a fugitive.
► Michael Gladunov of Boston, 33, was — by contrast — fairly easy to catch in the months after he was released in a Dookhan-related case. He was arrested twice for skipping court dates, and also picked up new charges of theft as well as resisting arrest. He seemed aware, however, that he was blowing his chance, reportedly telling police, “That’s all right, I got a case with Dookhan . . . Put me in a cage. I belong in a cage.”
To the police, prosecutors, probation officers, and others on the front lines of the drug war, the high rate of re-arrest among Dookhan defendants comes as no surprise. The average age of the 61 people who have been re-arrested in Suffolk County is 35, much too old to be a youthful offender, suggesting that many of them have a considerable history of dealing drugs. Getting into trouble is what they know.
Vincent DeMore, one of three assistant district attorneys in Suffolk County handling Dookhan-tainted cases, said that by the time drug defendants get to the point of being sentenced to jail, most have already accumulated a long record of drug possession and dealing.
“They almost all have 100 percent recidivism rates,” said DeMore, who works at the weekly drug court sessions in Suffolk Superior Court where defendants in Dookhan cases make their pleas to be released or have convictions reversed. “They wouldn’t be in Superior Court if that wasn’t the case. By their very definition they are subsequent offenders.”
Defense lawyers agree that, while some guilty drug defendants will undoubtedly walk free, the lack of a fair trial is the greater miscarriage of justice. Albert Cullen III, who represents several Dookhan defendants, said it is vital for prosecutors to play by the rules no matter the defendant.
“We rely on the Commonwealth to follow the law, and they didn’t,” Cullen said. “But these are not cases of mistaken identities or DNA. This is not adjudication of innocence, so far from that.”
Despite the gloomy, if predictable, statistics on re-arrested Dookhan defendants, DeMore and others in the justice system know the crime wave is so far not as big as many feared in the early days after the scandal broke.
At the time, Dookhan admitted that she had committed a cardinal offense in her profession — testing drugs by visual inspection rather than doing chemical analysis — to make the work go faster. She also said she sometimes forged colleagues’ signatures. In at least one case, prosecutors said, a defendant faced cocaine trafficking charges based on Dookhan’s testing when he was actually peddling fake cocaine.
“I messed up bad. It’s my fault,” Dookhan said in Aug. 28, 2012, remarks to State Police that she now wants suppressed from her upcoming trial on 27 felony counts because she had not been told of her right to remain silent.
Two days after Dookhan’s confession, State Police closed the entire lab; it remains closed, all 90,000 drug tests done by chemists there in the last nine years now under a cloud. The Legislature set aside $30 million for the added costs of relitigating potentially thousands of drug cases, an amount many suspect won’t be enough.
A mass prison exodus was feared, but what followed was, while disturbing, considerably more modest. About 2,000 of the affected defendants were still incarcerated at that time, but many were ineligible for release on the basis of Dookhan’s alleged misconduct because they had been convicted of other charges.
“In Massachusetts, you really have to work at it to get incarcerated,” prosecutor DeMore explained, meaning that most of the Dookhan defendants were “already on the streets anyway, so the amount of people who were returning to the street I think was a relatively small number. There just weren’t that many of them.”
Moreover, state prison and probation officials stepped up efforts to work with the Dookhan defendants to find housing, jobs, and substance abuse counseling — three key factors in whether criminals re-offend when they are released. In addition, Boston police have made a priority of monitoring Dookhan defendants who get out of jail, meeting with them individually to let them know they would be watched.
“People had feared that we were just going to open the doors to the prisons. The system really got organized so that wouldn’t happen,” said Probation Commissioner Edward J. Dolan. “It wasn’t like prisoners went to the lobby of Souza-Baranowski [a state prison] and called a cab. I think that has contributed to the fact it wasn’t a bigger public safety issue.”
Beyond that, district attorneys have fought hard to keep some of the highest-risk Dookhan defendants from getting out in the first place, looking for legal arguments to preserve the convictions.
For instance, in some cases where Dookhan performed the drug testing, the lab preserved the drugs, opening the possibility of retesting the samples. In Suffolk County this year, prosecutors convicted two Dookhan defendants for heroin distribution, Julio Medina and Travis Curry, after the drugs were re-tested by another lab.
Today, many of the Dookhan defendants who were behind bars when the scandal broke are still there. For instance, 87 of the 292 Dookhan defendants who have begun the appeals process in Suffolk Superior Court were still locked up as of early summer.
Those 87 include 19 cases in which prosecutors persuaded a judge to deny the defendants’ request for a new trial or at least a stay of their prison sentence.
Prosecutors also drove a hard bargain with many defendants they agreed to release, offering them a choice between accepting a plea bargain in which they go free, but carry a criminal conviction, or contesting their conviction and getting out of prison with a GPS device on their ankle. That precaution alone led to arrest warrants for several, including one who cut off the bracelet so he could take a dip in a hot tub.
Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley said that there were, in the end, only 15 cases that prosecutors felt were so compromised by Dookhan’s alleged misconduct that they dropped the charges entirely.
“The thought seemed to be that it’s just a matter of the paperwork to get these convictions vacated, that I can just file this boiler plate motion and away we go, and it’s not really working out that way. We’re litigating them,” DeMore said.
Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett took a similarly aggressive approach, successfully challenging five of the seven Dookhan defendants who asked for a new trial and appealing to the Supreme Judicial Court in an effort to limit the authority of special judicial magistrates to release Dookhan defendants.
In all, the Globe review found that, as of early summer, 613 Dookhan defendants had either had their criminal sentences put on hold, been released on bail pending a new trial, or prosecutors had dropped the charges entirely. Suffolk County alone accounted for nearly half of the released defendants, 320, followed by Plymouth County with 113, and Norfolk County with 53.
That is more than enough drug offenders to cause a perceptible wave of crime, especially in places such as Suffolk County — home to three-quarters of Dookhan defendants who have been re-arrested — and in Brockton, where two recently released Dookhan defendants are accused of some of the most violent crimes.
That includes back-to-back assaults in May when Malcolm Desir allegedly shot at undercover police and then Donta Hood, 23, allegedly killed Charles Evans.
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said this week the Dookhan defendants have contributed to a rise in violent crime in Brockton, including the late December shooting death of Dookhan defendant Tashawn Leslie and last week’s stabbing death of Dookhan defendant Jeffery Cicerano.
“There have been significant issues with the drug lab,” said Cruz at a press conference on the rising number of murders in the city. “Many times, we hear about the nonviolent drug offenders, I guess they’re not here in the city of Brockton because, unfortunately, a lot of them are protecting their turf with weapons and they have no remorse about shooting other people or shooting at police officers, which makes them much more dangerous.”
Overshadowed by the violent outbursts, some Dookhan defendants are approaching their unexpected freedom as a second chance, but they are learning how difficult it can be to go straight after a life of selling and using illegal drugs.
Not only do they carry the stigma of drug convictions and often lack qualifications for good work, they also face practical hurdles such as learning to live with a GPS ankle bracelet.
Ferdinand Rivera, 35, lost his job at a flooring company after customers saw the GPS device on his ankle and did not feel comfortable with him in their home. Although his boss knew about the bracelet beforehand, Rivera was fired after the episode.
Rivera has a lengthy criminal record dating back to his juvenile years, but he said his family values have changed and he is determined to make his most recent release from prison his last. He currently lives with his fiance and 8-year-old daughter in Dorchester and was recently accepted into Local 7, an iron workers union where he will work five days a week and take classes two nights a week as part of a three-year apprenticeship program.
“A lot of guys want to do the right thing, but there’s nothing for them, so they go back to doing the same thing,” Rivera said, mentioning how fortunate he is to have the strong support system others lack. “Some guys are worse off than if they just stayed in jail.”
In fact, some Dookhan defendants have decided to remain in prison for now, hoping that a much-anticipated investigation of the Hinton lab by the state inspector general will be so damning that they can get their convictions erased and leave prison without an ankle bracelet.
Defendants and prosecutors alike are looking forward to Oct. 10 when the Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear arguments in five Dookhan cases that could establish the guidelines for which convictions should stand and which should be tossed out because of her involvement. After the court’s decision, expected in December, both sides expect the pace of Dookhan cases coming through the drug court to quicken.
Boston Police Commissioner Davis looks back over the past year with some relief because the fall-out from the drug lab scandal could have been worse, but he is not letting his guard down.
“We’re still vigilant, we’re still concerned about this, the crisis has not passed,” said Davis in an interview. But the crime wave this summer was not as severe as he had feared, “and I think that’s a hopeful sign.”
Thousands of cases affected
The criminal cases of 40,323 people may have been tainted by the actions of Annie Dookhan, the alleged rogue state drug lab chemist who was arrested in September 2012. Of those:
Freed from jail or prison since the drug lab scandal unfolded in 2012.
Arrested again after release. Sixteen have been arrested more than once.