Former Massachusetts crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan entered a plea of not guilty last week in response to charges that she tampered with drug evidence and faked test results. Her case has been in the headlines for several months as the state comes to grips with just how far-reaching her mistakes could be. One man, who had cocaine distribution charges against him dropped in light of Dookhan’s mess, is now the first to file a lawsuit against her, though not likely the last.
According to the Boston Herald, Jeffrey Solomon is currently an inmate at MCI Cedar Junction where he is incarcerated on unrelated charges. The cocaine distribution charges against him were dropped this past fall after Dookhan’s work was called into question.
Solomon was looking at two possible seven year sentences for the charges. The federal suit alleges, “At that time Dookhan was engaged in large-scale criminal and fraudulent conduct, including falsifying results, dry labbing, perjury, and forgery.”
He is seeking unspecified damages. As Mark Hare, the outgoing president of the Massachusetts Association of Court Appointed Attorneys has noted, the Dookhan related civil suits are likely to be “astronomical”. You can’t jail someone based on tainted evidence provided by the state, and not expect the victims to have a right to compensation.
On the same day that the suit was filed, Dookhan was back in court for her sixth appearance and arraignment. She has pleaded not guilty to evidence tampering and obstruction of justice.
Dookhan was first arrested in September. Her deception began even before she got her job at the drug lab when she falsely claimed she had an advanced degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts. After that, as they say, it was all downhill.
Dookhan spent her nine years working for the Hinton State Laboratory, testing drug evidence. She is alleged to have falsified results and simply looked at substances to make a determination as to what they were.
It’s estimated around 10,000 people were convicted or accused of crimes based on her evidence handling procedures. Solomon, no doubt, is only the front of the line.
As of last month, 252 people have been released from prison pending new trials.
She faces charges in multiple courts—mainly in Suffolk County where the lab is located, but also in courts where she is accused of lying under oath.
Though Dookham admits to “screwing up”, she is pleading not guilty in the common game of the current criminal justice system. It goes something like this: the defendant pleads not guilty to entice the prosecutor into offering a better plea agreement, a reduction of charges or lenient sentence, for instance. Time will tell if her strategy works.
Photo REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi