Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A No Brain(tree)er

"Prosecutors will drop thousands of cases in Dookhan scandal" by Shawn Musgrave Globe Correspondent  April 19, 2017

Prosecutors across the state on Tuesday said they would collectively throw out more than 20,000 cases that relied on evidence handled by a disgraced drug lab chemist, Annie Dookhan.

The dramatic step, which specialists called unprecedented in scope, follows years of litigation by defendants whose cases involved evidence that was analyzed by Dookhan, who pleaded guilty to tampering with drug samples and fabricating results.

The submission of the final list of cases to be dismissed offers the fullest accounting to date of the disruption caused by a scandal that came to light in 2012.

“The dismissal of thousands of tainted drug lab cases rightly puts justice over results,” said the Massachusetts Bar Association’s chief legal counsel, Martin W. Healy, but Michael O’Keefe, district attorney for the Cape and Islands, said that even though his office would dismiss cases “because we believe that the integrity of our system of justice is more important than their conviction,” no conclusions about guilt or innocence should be drawn.

“We are dealing with drug defendants, the overwhelming majority of whom plead guilty, went through an exhaustive plea colloquy with a judge and testified under oath that they were ‘pleading guilty because they were guilty and for no other reason,’ ” O’Keefe said in a statement....


I've kind of retreated on the whole drug war (I sent the stuff to New Jersey for testing), but it is nice to know the state is being held responsible. Dookhan did her time, and wasn't high on meth at her lab." None of the supervisors will be charged.


"Emerging scandal in evidence room puts hundreds of drug cases at risk" by Andrea Estes and Jim O’Sullivan Globe Staff  September 14, 2016

It began this spring when the Braintree police chief ordered an audit of the department’s evidence room. But after the officer in charge found out that the review was about to begin, the 20-year veteran committed suicide, according to two people who have been briefed on the case.

Now, as audit details emerge and reveal missing drugs, guns, and money, Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey is facing the possibility that hundreds of drug cases may have to be thrown out because the evidence was tainted or lost. Norfolk Superior Court judges dismissed the first five Braintree drug cases on Monday and Tuesday at the request of prosecutors.

“We won’t and don’t use tampered evidence. It’s that simple,” said Morrissey in an interview. “We play by the rules, as painful as it is to let some of these people go.”

The emerging scandal at the Braintree evidence room invites comparisons to the mishandling of drug samples by former state chemist Annie Dookhan. Her widespread tampering with drug evidence forced the dismissal of thousands of cases and the closure of the state forensic lab where she worked.

It's starting to look like you can't trust any of the results anywhere in Massachusetts, and the biggest junkies are working at the offices!

Braintree officials are expected to release the results of the audit this week. They have asked Attorney General Maura Healey to investigate whether any crimes were committed.

The audit, first reported by WCVB-TV, revealed that eight guns were missing, along with $70,000 in cash and “a lot of drugs,” according to someone with first-hand knowledge of the audit’s findings. At least two of the weapons were found in Braintree police officer Susan Zopatti’s house, this person said.

Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan said town officials have already implemented plans to improve the oversight of evidence.

“We are doing our work in responding to the audit,” he said. “We’ve already established new protocols associated with the evidence room. We are earnest and determined to take the corrective steps that are needed.”

Zopatti’s husband hung up the phone when contacted by a Globe reporter, and Braintree officials — including the mayor — have said very little publicly about how the drugs, guns, and money came to be missing from the evidence room.

Braintree Police Chief Russell W. Jenkins hired the auditor in May because he suspected something was wrong, according to someone with direct knowledge of the situation. He chose former State Police major Bruce Gordon, who runs a company called Narcotics Audit Solutions and had recently performed an audit of the police department in neighboring Weymouth.

Gordon met with Zopatti on May 13, according to a person briefed on the audit. She killed herself within a week.

Yeah, maybe. Corrupt people usually don't, but....

Zopatti oversaw the evidence room from 2013 to 2016. Prosecutors are revisiting all the drug cases that originated in Braintree during that period — potentially hundreds of cases, according to Morrissey.

All of them, even closed cases in which the defendant accepted plea deals, could be thrown out, Morrissey and two defense lawyers say.

Morrissey’s office, which started notifying defense lawyers last month, began dismissing cases this week — including that against Roberto Castillo, who was arrested with a co-defendant at a Braintree motel in 2015 and accused of selling heroin, morphine, and cocaine.

“I commend the district attorney for being upfront. I think he acted appropriately and properly to take steps to remedy the situation,” said Castillo’s lawyer, Mark Bennett, of Milton. “But it’s troubling because it undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system. The entire system hinges on the police and everyone else playing by the rules.”

Judge Robert Cosgrove, who dismissed charges against five Braintree drug defendants this week, said in court that the implications of evidence room tampering are profound.

“I presume if (evidence) is kept in the Braintree evidence locker, I would think it would be true of every case in the town of Braintree, would it not?” Cosgrove said.

Healey’s spokeswoman, Cyndi Roy-Gonzalez, confirmed the office has been asked to investigate but gave no details. “We’re reviewing the matter,” she said.

Massachusetts has been rocked by multiple evidence tampering scandals in recent years. Dookhan, who worked at the now-closed state drug lab in Jamaica Plain, admitted in 2013 to tampering with hundreds of illegal drug samples that she was supposed to analyze, triggering the review of thousands of cases. She was granted parole in April from her three- to five-year prison sentence.

Two years later, another state chemist, Sonja Farak, admitted stealing and using drug samples she was analyzing at the state lab in Amherst. Her admission jeopardized not only the cases she worked on but potentially thousands of cases that were sent to the lab where she worked. Prosecutors are still working with defense lawyers to determine which cases should be dismissed.

Morrissey said he has no choice but to throw out all the recent Braintree cases even if there’s no direct evidence of tampering.

“I tell people this: If I served you a bowl of piping hot beef stew and you found the meat was rancid, would you set it aside and keep eating, or would you send the whole thing back? You’d send the whole thing back.”

Kevin Reddington, another defense lawyer, said he has two drug trafficking cases pending in Norfolk Superior Court. He recently received notice that there was a potential problem with the evidence.

“In this day and age — and with Annie Dookhan — it’s a cause for concern. Consistent with his duty, the district attorney, in a timely manner, placed attorneys who have cases pending on notice that this issue is out there. I’m sure the investigation will continue and motions to dismiss will be filed.”


"Drugs, guns, and $400,000 missing from Braintree police" by Evan Allen Globe Staff  September 15, 2016

BRAINTREE — An audit of the Braintree Police Department’s troubled evidence room revealed that thousands of pieces of drug evidence, dozens of firearms, and over $400,000 of seized money had vanished, town officials said Wednesday.

The audit, which examined evidence going back to 1999, found that heat-sealed drug bags were torn open or cut; bags of cash were sliced open at the bottom; and at least 60 guns, including semiautomatic rifles, had disappeared.

So much for the gun-grabbing agenda.

“I find the auditor’s report of unaccounted for items and poor record keeping practices by the Police Department to be deeply troubling and unacceptable,” Mayor Joseph Sullivan said at a news conference Wednesday night. The town, he said, has asked the attorney general’s office to help investigate.

Braintree Police Chief Russell W. Jenkins ordered the audit this spring, after he began to suspect a problem. The officer who ran the evidence room killed herself in May, a week after the auditor spoke with her for the first time.

At the press conference, Sullivan declined to comment on what might have motivated the removal of evidence, saying the investigation was sensitive and ongoing.

Much of the missing evidence was probably disposed of by the department in purges in 2009 and 2012, according to both Sullivan and the audit, conducted by former State Police major Bruce Gordon, who runs Narcotics Audit Solutions.

The evidence purged was not properly recorded, the audit states, and remained in the computers as active. Hundreds of pieces of evidence continued to vanish after 2012, however, when there were no purges being conducted.

The evidence room officer, Susan Zopatti, worked in Braintree for 20 years, and had run the evidence room since 2013.

Sullivan said that since the audit was completed, all but 12 of the firearms had been found. About $140,000 of the missing cash was found, as well, according to a written police response to the audit.

“There is still a lot more work to be done to determine a fully accurate account of these items, and the department is continuing their efforts in that regard,” Sullivan said.

The Police Department disputed some of the audit’s numbers, stating in the written response that the list of evidence auditors were given to search for was “substantially overinclusive.”

The audit examined evidence dating to 1999. Norfolk County officials are now facing the prospect that an untold number of cases may need to be thrown out because evidence was tainted or lost. Sullivan declined to estimate how many cases may be affected. He also declined to specify what tipped off officials that an audit was needed.

“I truly appreciate your desire, the public’s right to know,” Sullivan said. “I want to emphasize that I find these findings troubling, and we are going to take steps to correct them.”

Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said he was looking at having to dismiss 200 to 400 cases, noting that he had already dismissed a half dozen cases over the last three days.

Among them was a slate of drug charges dropped Wednesday against Stephen O’Brien, a Quincy man with 38 prior convictions.

“It is very disturbing that people are now going to be let go after some great work by the Police Department and the district attorney’s office,” Morrissey said. “It’s disheartening.””

The audit revealed that 4,709 pieces of narcotics evidence were missing, and 38 pieces compromised. Drug evidence was stored haphazardly, the audit found. Some samples were not logged in, and others were listed as destroyed” but were found during the audit.

About 2,500 pieces of property evidence were missing, the audit concluded. The property category included entries for cash, videos, sexual assault kits, counterfeit money, vehicles, and bicycles, but it was not clear from the audit what property was actually missing.

The audit found that sexual assault kits were being improperly stored in an outdoor trailer. There was no rhyme or reason to where anything was stored, the audit noted, and there were many property items that did not appear to have any evidentiary value at all.

The audit also discovered hundreds of documents improperly stored in the evidence locker instead of in individual case files.

Seized money was stored in a filing cabinet, but many seizures were logged without an amount. The audit found that $407,989 was missing.

Either 60 or 70 firearms were missing, according to the audit and the police department’s written response.

The audit laid out recommendations for how evidence should be handled in the future, and Sullivan said that new protocols and procedures have already been established.

“I, as well as Chief Jenkins, accept the independent auditor’s recommendations to better secure and preserve current and future evidence and will take the corrective steps necessary to ensure that these new procedures are implemented and adhered to,” Sullivan said.



"Braintree Police Officer Susan Zopatti, who ran the evidence room starting in 2013, killed herself in May after the auditor spoke with her for the first time. Police have recovered all but 12 of the guns, officials said, and about $140,000 of the cash."

Also seeSince ’07, DEA has seized $3.2b from people never charged with crimes

The largest organized crime syndicate in the world right now is the U.S. government, and they then go to work for whom?

"Troopers allegedly sold several hundred State Police guns" by Shelley Murphy Globe Staff  September 21, 2016

An investigation that led to the recent suspension of three state troopers involves allegations that they sold several hundred used State Police guns to a Greenfield firearms dealer on behalf of the department, then received more than a dozen of those weapons, free of charge, for their personal use, according to two people familiar with the probe.

Should have burned the evidence.

The attorney general’s office is focusing on how the guns — an assortment of pistols, rifles, and other firearms — were tagged as surplus and traded to Jurek Brothers during the summer of 2015, according to several people with knowledge of the case.

The company, which has a lucrative contract to sell firearms, ammunition, and other equipment to the State Police and other law enforcement agencies, did not pay for the used weapons but instead gave the department a credit toward the purchase of new weapons, those familiar with the investigation said.

Investigators are looking into whether the three members of the State Police armorer’s unit who negotiated the deal were authorized to do so and received a sufficient price for the weapons; and whether they violated state ethics law or department regulations by allegedly receiving free guns afterward, according to two of the people familiar with the case.

Lawyers representing the troopers said they have done nothing wrong and it has been common practice for decades for the armorer’s unit to trade old guns to companies contracted to sell the department new ones.

The people familiar with the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

State Police spokesman David Procopio declined to identify the three troopers or provide details about the investigation, including whether they were authorized to trade in the weapons and how much the state received in exchange.

Earlier this month, following a Fox25 News report on the suspensions, Procopio issued a statement indicating that two troopers and a lieutenant assigned to the armory had been indefinitely suspended without pay amid an internal investigation into “the transfer of a limited number of surplus weapons to a state-authorized vendor.”

Boston attorney Leonard Kesten, said the armorer’s unit, located in New Braintree, has followed the practice of trading in surplus weapons to state-authorized vendors since long before his clients were assigned there. “They understood that this procedure had been regularly used in the past,” Kesten said.

The vast majority of law enforcement agencies in the state do business with Jurek Brothers, Needham attorney Timothy Burke said.

Thomas Merrigan, an attorney at Sweeney Merrigan Law who represents Jurek Brothers, declined to discuss details of the ongoing investigation but in October the company received a new, three-year contract to supply firearms, ammunition, equipment, and training to State Police, the Department of Correction, and the Environmental Police. Overall, the state has paid the company $2.9 million since 2010, according to purchasing records....


So the gun-trafficking rings are run by.... the authorities?

"Braintree Police chief retires amid evidence room scandal" by Evan Allen and Shelley Murphy Globe Staff  September 22, 2016

Braintree Police Chief Russell Jenkins, whose department is under investigation for an evidence room scandal that could compromise hundreds of drug cases, will retire early next month at the urging of the town’s mayor, officials said Thursday. 


“Clearly, this is not the way I wanted to end my career, but the mayor wants new leadership and I serve at his pleasure,” Jenkins wrote in an e-mail sent to the police department late Wednesday night.

Jenkins’ leadership has come under question after an independent audit, made public last week, found that more than $400,000 in cash, between 60 and 70 guns, and thousands of drug samples had gone missing from the evidence room since 1999.

Evidence Officer Susan Zopatti fatally shot herself in May, a week after the auditor met with her for the first time. When the auditor examined the evidence room, he found bags of drugs and cash torn open, with large amounts missing. Two guns were recovered from Zopatti’s home.

The attorney general’s office is investigating. Police have recovered most of the guns and about $140,000 of the cash.

In a statement, Braintree Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan said he had accepted Jenkins’s retirement. He did not discuss the circumstances of his departure.

“I appreciate and commend his nearly 34 years in the Braintree Police Department and the community of Braintree,” Sullivan said. “I wish him and his family well.”

Through a spokesman, Sullivan declined to comment further.

In a statement, Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said the problems uncovered by the audit “mandate changes.”

“Today’s announcement is an important step forward,” he wrote. “The Norfolk DA’s Office will work with new leadership as we continue to assure the rights of defendants.”

In his announcement, Jenkins said he would have preferred to remain in the department to oversee the implementation of new policies for the evidence room, but intended to focus on the positive parts of his career and “block out” the negatives.

“I have said before that haters will hate,” he said. “But by and large we have the support of our community. They continue to believe in us and depend on us.”


So far, 32 drug cases have been dismissed because of tainted evidence, according to Morrissey’s office. But the final tally will likely be much higher.

“I think we have to wait for a real complete investigation to determine what was going on there to determine what other kinds of evidence could have been tainted,” said Nancy Bennett, deputy chief counsel at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency. “There’s so much missing. If you look at the audit, thousands of pieces of evidence.”

While the audit suggests that much of the missing criminal evidence may have been disposed of in undocumented “purges” conducted in 2009 and 2012, Bennett noted that there is no proof either way. Zopatti took over in the evidence room in 2013, and evidence continued to vanish.

Bennett said it “remains to be seen” whether every case that involved the evidence room is tainted.

“I think in a way it’s good that this problem has come to light because what was worse was the people who believed that they were getting justice and their cases were being fairly handled,” she said.

Bruce Gordon, a retired State Police major who runs Narcotics Audit Solutions and conducted the Braintree audit, said most departments have never had their evidence rooms assessed.

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” he said. “You can’t bury your head in the sand. Either your evidence is OK or it’s not. And if it’s not, fix it.”

Gordon credited Braintree’s mayor and police chief and Morrissey for reacting swiftly after receiving the audit results.

“Departments should be paying attention to their evidence,” Gordon said. “That’s what convicts people, takes their liberty away, and frees them. It has to be a priority, done by people willing to do the job and given the time to do it.”

Ya' think?

“There are a lot of hard-working and honest cops who risk their lives to make arrests,” Gordon added. “It’s a tragedy these cases are going to be thrown out.”

Town Councilor Charles C. Kokoros, who heads Braintree’s public safety committee, praised Jenkins for his four-year tenure as chief.

“He’s been a great community police chief, he’s been a great police officer over the years,” he said. “He’s a great person and a family guy and a great part of the community, and I wish him a great retirement.”

Councilor John C. Mullaney defended Jenkins, saying he did not believe his abrupt departure was justified.

“Chief Jenkins has a long history in the department; he was an exceptional person. I do not think that the condition of that department was his fault alone,” he said.

It was Jenkins who requested the audit, Mullaney pointed out, and he moved to correct the problem. But Mullaney acknowledged that Jenkins should have noticed something was amiss sooner.

“I have always believed that when a mistake is made, the person who can best correct the mistake is the person who is working there, not by bringing in a new person,” he said.


RelatedIt’s the gun industry vs. Mass. AG Healey

Has to be some irony there.

"In Braintree evidence scandal, unheeded warnings" by Evan Allen and Shelley Murphy Globe Staff  September 24, 2016

BRAINTREE — For months, police in this suburban police department had complained about Susan Zopatti, a veteran officer who was in charge of the evidence room. She wasn’t doing her job and sometimes appeared hung over and “out of it.” Officers couldn’t get the evidence they needed for court hearings.

She also had a drug problem?

They repeatedly warned their supervisors that Zopatti was not fit to oversee an inventory of seized money and drugs, according to two people with close knowledge of her tenure in the department.

“Something was wrong with Sue,” one former Braintree officer said.

A 50-year-old who had worked in her hometown department for almost 21 years, Zopatti desperately needed help. She was kind, helpful, and funny, and was struggling to care for her cancer-stricken mother, so her supervisors gave her leeway and a flexible schedule.

Oh, the poor criminal.

But despite growing concerns about her increasingly unreliable behavior — and a request from the deputy chief that Zopatti be transferred from her post — Chief Russell W. Jenkins left her in charge of the evidence room, a position that one person with knowledge of the situation described as perhaps the most important in the department.

Had anyone taken a close look at her workplace in recent months, they would have found torn evidence bags missing cocaine and cash, a scandalous disarray that now threatens to compromise hundreds of criminal cases and has triggered an investigation by the state attorney general’s office.


Two days earlier he was a great guy, blah, blah.

In a phone interview Friday, shortly after announcing he would retire early next month at the mayor’s request, Jenkins said he knew about Zopatti’s checkered history in the department, including complaints about her attendance and a 2012 effort by then-chief Paul Frazier to fire her for smoking cigarettes, which is against state law for police. But Jenkins had no inkling that she might have more serious issues, he said; in his presence, she never appeared impaired. And the complaints to the deputy chief were strictly about work performance, he said, not suspicions of substance abuse.

“I was trying to understand her situation at home and show some compassion to her in hopes she could work this out,” Jenkins said, “unaware of the fact that she was doing anything illegal in there. And now, I have to take responsibility for that.”

Yeah, I guess he should leave.

Zopatti committed suicide in May, one week after meeting with an auditor brought in by Jenkins to inspect the evidence room. By that time, more than $400,000 had vanished, some of it through holes cut in the bottom of evidence bags, auditors would later find. Thousands of drug samples and between 60 and 70 guns were gone. Two of the guns were later found in Zopatti’s home.

Zopatti’s precise role in the evidence scandal is not clear. But a review of public documents and interviews with six people with close knowledge of the department reveal an officer whose life visibly unraveled in recent years. Even those who said they were not personally fond of Zopatti said they were outraged that she was left in the evidence room with so little oversight.

“They failed her, they really did,” said a former Braintree officer who knew Zopatti. “What she did wasn’t right, but still. It cost her her life.”

Jenkins, who assigned Zopatti to the evidence room about eight months after becoming chief in 2012, said that missing the warning signs was a “cross I have to bear.”

“I’m going to have to live with that,” said Jenkins. “I’m paying for it with my own retirement.”

How brutal.

In a phone interview Friday, Zopatti’s husband, Mark, said his wife only missed work because she had taken family leave to care for her ailing mother. He denied allegations that his wife’s behavior was erratic or troubling.

“What bothers me is, you print whatever you want to print, you don’t care what the truth is,” he said. “It’s wrong. I know it’s wrong. I know they’re lies.”

He declined to comment further.

Zopatti joined the department in 1995 as a patrol officer. Three years later, Zopatti’s then-husband accused her of taking drugs and drinking alcohol, according to a document in their divorce filing. In court records, Zopatti denied the allegations.

In 2001, Zopatti and another Braintree officer sued the department for gender discrimination and sexual harassment, accusing the department of denying training opportunities for female officers and disciplining them more harshly. The women voluntarily dismissed the suit six months after they filed it.

A former officer who knew Zopatti recalled her as friendly and generous, the type of person who would call the station to see who wanted coffee on her way into work.

But by 2012, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation, Zopatti was a problem employee, chronically late or absent. Then-chief Frazier had become fed up.

When evidence surfaced that she was smoking cigarettes — a fireable offense for police in Massachusetts — Frazier moved to dismiss her. But disciplinary officials found he didn’t prove his case, so she kept her job, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Less than a year later, after being appointed chief, Jenkins put Zopatti in charge of the evidence room after she applied for the position.

“To be frank, I was hoping that it would turn her around,” said Jenkins. “It seemed that when she first got that job, she put her heart and soul into it.”

Probably was. Key to the kingdom.

But Zopatti continued her pattern of lateness and absences, according to several people familiar with the situation, and sometimes appeared impaired. Police had trouble getting evidence from the room. Officers began complaining about her to Deputy Chief Wayne Foster, who brought the issues to Jenkins. Foster did not return requests for comment. 

How long would your employer hang on to you?

Beginning in April 2015, Jenkins said he and his deputy counseled Zopatti on “work performance” issues twice. Foster wanted to remove her from the evidence room, but Jenkins said he urged compassion for a woman facing her mother’s impending death.

Never, he said, did he imagine she might be stealing.

“It’s a single person, working within a room where she’s not got somebody looking over her shoulder watching what she’s doing,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he decided to have an audit conducted in early 2016 not out of suspicion, but because he thought it was a smart move for the department. There had been one incident, he said, in which evidence had gone missing, but he believed the audit would clear it up. The day Zopatti met with the auditor was the first time Jenkins thought she might have issues more serious than attendance problems, he said.

“She just seemed different,” Jenkins said, noting that she wore dark glasses indoors. “She just seemed a little off.”

Foster came to him that day with a suspicion that Zopatti was under the influence of some substance, he said, and they started an investigation.

A week later, Zopatti was dead.

Since Zopatti’s suicide, the department has recovered about $140,000 and all but 12 of the missing guns.

The audit found that some of the missing evidence predated Zopatti’s tenure, destroyed in “purges” that were authorized, if not properly documented. But evidence continued to vanish after 2012, when there were no additional purges.

More than 30 drug cases have already been dropped by Norfolk County prosecutors because of compromised evidence, and many more are expected.

Zopatti’s family has been devastated. In her obituary, they remembered her as a loving mother and wife, a woman who adored her dog Libby, trips to the Cape, camping, painting, and the band U2.

On social media are photographs of Zopatti smiling with her husband. A picture she made for him shows him smiling as a dog licks his face. She had planned to give it to him for Father’s Day, he wrote under the image.

In one photograph he posted in June, Zopatti smiles in the sun, the ocean at her back. A commenter wrote that Zopatti was beautiful, but that she was angry at her.

“Don’t be,” her husband replied.

Awwwww, some criminals are defended and loved in paper.


And now there are problems in Gloucester?

Gloucester chief fired after allegedly destroying evidence 

It was the texts that tripped him up. 

Still getting a pen$ion though.