Massachusetts Should Not Be Able to Hide the Truth By Blaming One “Rogue” Drug Lab Chemist

Finally some people have woken up and seen the magnitude of the drug lab scandal.  I’d like to think it was because of the blog I wrote a couple a days ago which was published in the Quincy Patriot Ledger where I said this is going to be a very expensive proposition and calling for an independent investigation.

Here’s a quick time line. In June 2011 it appeared something was wrong.  Around December 2011 six months later the Commissioner and the state police had additional evidence of wrongdoing. Nine months ago in February 2012 the Norfolk DA’s office knew there was a problem. In March of 2012 Annie Dookhan resigned. On August 30, 2012, Governor Patrick ordered the state drug lab shut down after state police found additional problems.

15 months after this incident was discovered people are recognizing the magnitude of the problem.  Governor Deval Patrick on Thursday said he was appointing a well qualified David Meier to head up a “central office”  which will sift through the up to 37,000 cases handled by Annie Dookhan. Attorney General Martha Coakley who appears to have already been tackling this mess indicated an expansion in her work stating her office will  “conduct a broader review of the drug analysis unit.”

Governor Patrick sad it was going to take time to figure this out.  AG Coakley said “it will take a while.”   Meier’s task seems straight forward — find out what items Annie worked on, pass that information on to the DAs and defense counsel.  Make sure every individuals adversely affected is notified.  Coakley’s attempt to get to the bottom of this may be more complicated.  After it’s figured out, the civil suits will start.  This may be our Big Dig without federal money helping out.

We see the costs are already starting to blow up.  Meier at $12,500 a month will according to Governor Patrick need  to hire “paralegals and other support staff.”  He’ll need to secure space, computers, etc. if he is to be effective.  AG Coakley has said the governor has promised to provide her with more resources if needed.  Essex County DA Blodgett said he’ll need additional staff and attorneys.  Cape and Islands DA Michael O’Keefe said the work is going to “be very labor intensive and very costly to do.”  Blodgett reading this right added, “This could have devastating consequences for in terms of our criminal justice system.” 

DA Michael Morrissey in Norfolk has already acquiesced in the release of David Danielli, who was doing time in jail having been arrested for trafficking in oxycodone.  He said he was doing so “to fulfill the protections of the United States Constitution.”  Danielli had pled guilty in June.  He withdrew his plea of guilty on Wednesday.  If his case is dismissed for want of proof then Danielli who was found with 500 pills which appeared to be oxycodone, allegedly field tested as such, and which he admitted were oxycodone when he pled guilty may be able to sue for his four months of incarceration and other damages. There are  many more cases where people have already served time or were deported, lost jobs or otherwise harmed who will be entitled to compensation. Don’t be surprised if you see lawyers advertising on TV looking for people who have been convicted of drug offenses over the last 9 years.

Ominous signs have appeared. John Auerbach who resigned as Commission of Public Health last weekend said “the buck stops with me   noting that “the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal-justice system.

On Thursday he said there is no “excuse for the lack of proper oversight and quality control management in critical operations like the forensic drug laboratory.”  Was he still accepting responsibility for this?  Au contrairehe’s now passing the buck to others saying, I accept absolutely no responsibility for the actions of a rogue chemist but I do think that the Department of Public Health’s managers erred in lacking proper oversight of the forensic drug laboratory and in the way the June 2011 incident was handled.”   

Why the change of heart?  Why the decision to leave the buck in Annie’s pocketbook?   Does Auerbach’s washing of his hands indicate a plan afoot to put all this on one “rouge” chemist.  Are we not to look any further than Annie?   Where else have we seen that?

The FBI convinced everyone John Connolly was a rogue agent to escape responsibility for its ill-conceived Top Echelon Informant program.  That program still continues to this date. One of the FBI’s most active agents against organized crime,  William F. Roemer. Jr  explained this.  He told how they did illegal break-ins called black bag jobs.  He wrote:  “But, heaven help us if we were apprehended and it eventually came out that we were employed by the FBI; then the Bureau would denounce us.  We were “rogue,” carrying out an unauthorized operation.”

That’s the game.  Shift the blame.  Use the name: rogue for someone who may have been doing what was expected of her by her bosses and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Here is my great fear.  If the groundwork is being prepared to place the blame on only one person, Annie, we will be saddled with an immense bill yet will never know what truly happened.  The officers will escape, a lowly enlisted person will be punished.

Did Massachusetts so underfunded her lab that she was forced to act as she did to keep her job, a point that Auerbach went out of his way to deny while admitting there were budget cutbacks?

The important thing in all of this from the public point of view is that we have openness.  We want to know what happened and when. I don’t think we should have to suffer through the usual FBI approach where we are told that we can’t know anything because the matter is under investigation like in its year and a half investigation of its use of Mafia capo Mark Rossetti as a protected informant.

You’ll note I don’t refer to Annie as Awful Annie anymore.  Maybe it’s my instinct to protect the underdog.  When everyone wants to wrap something up in a nice package and dump it on one person’s head my antennas go up.  Maybe Annie was working her butt off trying to keep up with an unconscionable work load?  Maybe Auerbach cut back on the staff and indicated he wanted things done on the cheap? What did the governor know of the cut backs Auerbach defended?  What did Massachusetts do when the chemists had the additional responsibilities thrown on them to do analysis and to testify?

I want to hold off judgment.  I think we should hear from Annie before demonizing her.  Let’s hope the system doesn’t go into a lock down mode.  Too much is involve in this to hide it.  It’s up to all citizens to insist on an open inquiry as we get ready to open our wallets and coin purses.