GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 15, 2012

Activists urge releases in crime lab cases

Civil rights advocates this week called for the blanket release of all non-violent drug offenders convicted based upon evidence handled by discredited former drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan, and for the records of potentially thousands more felons to be expunged, conceivably from Cape Ann to Cape Cod.

As the fallout of the ongoing investigation into evidence tampering at a state drug lab continues, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Families Against Mandatory Minimums wrote a letter to state Attorney General Martha Coakley and the state’s district attorneys, calling the case-by-case handling of convictions tainted by Dookhan in specially convened drug courts a waste of time and public resources.

Meanwhile, warning that hundreds of violent criminals with histories of drug trafficking could soon be released into city neighborhoods, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and public safety officials announced plans to launch an emergency reentry program and put more police on the streets in preparation for the fallout of the ongoing investigation into evidence tampering at a state drug lab.

“It’s unfortunate that one person can cause such harm to the legal process and in turn such potential for harm to the neighborhoods in our city and state,” said Menino, who met with Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and others to discuss the intervention plan.

Starting Friday in Norfolk County, “crisis re-entry teams” were scheduled to begin pre-release visitations with felons expected to be released as a result of the tainted evidence at the lab. Comprised of representatives from the Boston Police Department, district attorneys, the Department of Probation and Boston Centers for Youth and Family, the teams will case manage each individual released.

Officials in Essex County are also now wrestling with aspects of the crime lab scandal. While early indications suggested that the issue primarily focused on cases south of Boston, in Norfolk and Bristol counties, officials now say an estimated 8,451 drug samples from Essex County that may have been tainted by Dookhan’s involvement.

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