The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office is notifying defendants that the Framingham police discovered a “hide-a-key” that permitted unrecorded access to their evidence room, according to statements from prosecutors and police.
The key was discovered last month, according to the statements. Anyone who knew where it was could get into the evidence room and then into the “cage” where evidence is kept, according to a notice sent out to defendants.
The discovery comes amid turmoil for the department. Officer Alan Dubeshter, who worked in the evidence room, resigned from the force in April of this year, and the Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether he took money from the evidence room.
The key issue is also under investigation, Police Chief Kenneth Ferguson said in a statement Saturday.
“It appears that only the two evidence officers, who were authorized to access the evidence room, knew of the key,” Ferguson said. “All information suggests that this key was hidden as a back-up means, and convenience measure, for these two authorized evidence officers to access the outer door, if they had locked themselves out of their office.”
Ferguson said that “corrective and disciplinary action” will be imposed on anyone who failed to keep the evidence room secure.
The locks to the evidence room were changed on Sept. 21, 2015, Ferguson said, and the hide-a-key has not been useful since then.
Handling of evidence has come under scrutiny in the state in recent years. An audit conducted this summer showed that hundreds of thousands of dollars, thousands of drug samples, and dozens of guns had disappeared from the evidence room in Braintree. The evidence officer killed herself in May, and the chief of police retired in October under what he called pressure from the mayor.
The state is still trying to work out what will happen to defendants convicted with evidence tested by disgraced state chemist Annie Dookhan, who between 2003 and 2012 tampered with drug samples and forged results in favor of law enforcement, compromising tens of thousands of cases.
Another state chemist, Sonja Farak, admitted to ingesting drugs she was supposed to be testing from 2004 to 2013, affecting thousands more cases.
“It just seems like this is going to keep happening in Massachusetts until we have better systems in place,” said Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, in a phone interview. “Obviously it isn’t about one person and it isn’t about one town. Its impossible to say that anymore. Its an epidemic.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.