By Andy Metzger State House News Service
Newburyport Daily News
---- — BOSTON — As the fallout from botched state drug lab work continues, Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley said yesterday there could be as many as “three, four, five hundred people” released from jail over potentially faulty evidence.
“You may have got the biggest break in your life, but we’re not going to let this city turn into a drug haven now that you’re back,” Conley told reporters, describing how law enforcement would keep a watch on those released. “That’s not going to happen. And we’re very concerned that there will be violence, but that’s a bridge that we’ll have to cross.”
Asked whether the state would do anything to bolster public safety because of the number of people released, Gov. Deval Patrick pointed out that “we’re talking about people who shouldn’t have been convicted” and said the state would provide resources as needed.
“In terms of people who have other charges or other records, there’s process for that, and there’s a system for that, and there’s public safety officials who have responsibility for that,” Patrick said. “To the extent they need additional resources, I assume we’ll be gathering that as we’re developing the proposal for a supplemental budget.”
Conley told reporters, “We undoubtedly will be in the position to assent to the release of some pretty dangerous people into Boston.”
Yesterday, the Boston Municipal Court set up the state’s first special court to handle potentially tainted drug evidence, and Conley said it was a frustrating exercise as no action was taken on most of the cases because the evidence was not apparently handled by “rogue chemist” Annie Dookhan.
“This list here, no one can really make any sense over how it was produced in this court,” Conley said, during a break in court proceedings. “The leadership in this court should be embarrassed by what’s going on today. These cases aren’t even related to Annie Dookhan in most instances.”
First Justice in the Edward Brooke Courthouse, Judge Raymond Dougan, has been the target of Conley’s criticism before, when the district attorney accused him of being biased in favor of defendants.
The court’s clerk magistrate, Daniel Hogan, disputed some of Conley’s contentions. He said the list was “a list that I believe came from the boiler room” and said “we didn’t create our list.” About Conley’s perception that it was rushed, Hogan said the court’s objective was to “ensure that not one person is held one day extra based upon a tainted process.”
Conley said defense attorneys and prosecutors were told on Tuesday that the special court would open Friday and only learned of the specific cases on Thursday.
Marcy Levington, one of the defense attorneys, also expressed frustration. She told the News Service, “It really is a mess.”
“I think that everyone is trying to work as effectively as possible to get people incarcerated out,” Levington said. “Bureaucracies unfortunately just aren’t that efficient.”
Declaring the Trial Court system “ready and available to handle cases immediately,” court officials on Tuesday named 28 judges across the state to begin processing cases with ties to the breach in drug lab testing procedures by Dookhan.
“We have established designated sessions for the purpose of assigning counsel and addressing the immediate liberty interests of the incarcerated defendants serving time in connection with a drug conviction stemming from a questionable drug analysis,” the court wrote in a press release on Tuesday.
Court officials estimate three-quarters of the initial cases are in superior court and the remainder are in Boston Municipal Court and the district court. Court dates are being established for the cases “in the next several weeks” based on meetings with district attorneys and the defense bar. Suffolk Superior Court has scheduled cases for the weeks of Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.
Out of the first seven cases heard yesterday, only one was given bail based on Dookhan’s involvement in his case. The court was set to hear 19 cases, and only two defendants were granted stayed sentences.
Carlos Colon, 22, was being held in South Bay House of Correction, and was granted $500 cash bail and a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew by Judge Mary Ann Driscoll, whom Conley excluded from his criticism saying she was the “perfect judge for this.”
Conley also said cases like Colon’s were what the special court was established to handle.
“Since this whole investigation became known to the district attorneys, our motivation, our goal was to address cases like Mr. Colon,” Conley said. “He should be released and released promptly.”
Colon had been arrested along with someone else in the South End for allegedly selling someone three bags of crack cocaine in April 2010. The buyer was stopped, according to a police report, and when questioned about whether he had anything in his pockets, the man said, “Yeah, you got me. I have crack in my pocket.”
The buyer had allegedly been propositioned after buying six bags of crack from another dealer, and he was spotted handing over $50 to Colon’s accomplice who then walked into the Cathedral Grammar School yard with the buyer, the report said.
The buyer was found with nine bags of “white rock-like substance believed to be crack cocaine,” and according to Colon’s case file, prosecutor’s planned to call Dookhan as an expert witness.
Dookhan worked on some 34,000 cases, but admitted to state police investigators in late August that she tampered with evidence and identified substances as drugs without testing it. She is facing criminal charges.
The fallout from the drug lab disclosures led to Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach’s resignation, and investigations by the attorney general and the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee. Yesterday, state Auditor Suzanne Bump told the News Service her office is not looking into it.
“(Because of) extensive other investigations taking place, we will not be auditing them,” Bump said.
Colon pleaded guilty in March 2011 and was given a one-year suspended sentence, according to his docket sheet. In September 2011, he allegedly violated probation for alleged heroin trafficking in Stoughton, and in May 2012 he allegedly violated probation again, and was charged in Quincy District Court for drug possession and leaving the scene of property damage.
On Friday, the 22-year-old appeared in court sporting a beard and wearing a yellow shirt. His case was the first of the morning, and prosecutors agreed that he should be granted bail, but did not stay a sentence until the very last case, that of Michael Wells, who was released on personal recognizance with a curfew.
In other cases, defense attorneys told the judge they would not ask for a stay on a sentence, though they mentioned the potential that issues would be raised at a later date.
On Thursday, a court had issued a warrant for Marcus Pixley, 52, who had not attended a required court hearing after making bail, which was lowered because his case involved Dookhan. Pixley was subsequently apprehended by Quincy police, according to the Suffolk District Attorney’s office.
Sorting out the tangle of cases connected to Dookhan will be an undertaking for prosecutors, public defenders and sheriffs — who have to transport the inmates to and from court, Conley said.
The Patrick administration has asked prosecutors to submit a supplemental budget request, but Conley could not yet estimate what the cost would be.
“To put a number on it right now, I really can’t say,” Conley said. He said it would be “in the multi-millions.” Conley said the unraveling of evidence problems from the lab could add another 25,000 to 30,000 cases to the office’s caseload of 42,000 cases.
Patrick said much the same thing when asked about a news report that prosecutors might need $50 million. “I think it’s too soon to say what the number is,” Patrick said.