Emerging scandal in evidence room puts hundreds of drug cases at risk
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.
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.
I’ve seen similar stories from around the country. My brother is a defense attorney in Delaware and an audit of the Wilmington crime lab turned up a lot of problems though not as bad as Boston.