Friday, February 24, 2023

A battery and a false alarm at FHS

 By now everyone has had time to digest what happened at the High School last week. We also have learned that some lessons have been learned over this scary incident. But it remains clear that the who, what and why are still not answered. And perhaps since its school vacation week nothing will be presented until the kids go back next week. I wonder if parents, teachers and students will get the straight truth. My cynical bet is that no one will be held accountable. It should worry every parent in school that FPD did not know anything about the warning system was off/on line. I'm encouraged by statements Bob Tremblay made about lessons learned, but I'm still waiting for an answer from the SC about what lessons were learned from the Uvaldi school shooting.

The MWDN did some relevant reporting on the reasons why the false alarm happened.

 Tremblay said last Friday that the alarm was caused by the changing of a battery in the school's alert system. He said he was unaware that the battery was being changed that day, and did not know anything was happening at the high school until he heard sirens from his office on Flagg Drive.
The alarm system used by the school is a system called EAGL Gunshot Detection System, which is specifically designed to detect and alert gunfire in public buildings. The system was installed at Framingham High in 2020, but Tremblay said the school never knowingly put the system online, noting that the pandemic and a lack of activity in school buildings put the project on hold.
As for who was responsible for changing the battery, Tremblay said that is something the department is still trying to figure out.
"We don't know for sure and that is still something we are working on determining," Tremblay said. "Typically, it would be someone in our Department of Safety and Security or our Buildings and Grounds Department. It wouldn't habve been the vendor; we are still trying to figure out exactly what happened, and we hope to have a report on everything soon."
Tremblay emphasized that even with the knowledge that the alert system was off-line, it was a nevertheless a mistake to change the battery during the school day. Why that decision was made is still being investigated by the School Department.
"Even if that is the case, why did it happen during work hours? It should have happened off-hours, after school," Tremblay said. "Even though we knew the system was off-line, it absolutely shouldn't have happened during the school day, and that is a lesson learned. My understanding is that we got a request from the vendor to change the battery, and I'm still trying to figure out just who ordered whom to change the battery that day."
While the incident was a terrifying false alarm for some students and staff, the incident does provide a realistic example of how the school would react to an active shooter alert. Tremblay said part of the fallout has been gathering information on what can be improved upon if the school had to evacuate in the future.
"Every one of these incidents is a learning opportunity," he said. "For one example, to make the false alarm call throughout the school, to let everyone know it was a false alarm, we found out that we had some challenges with our PA systems, some areas couldn't adequately hear our PA system. We've already had our technology team in and I've seen them firsthand fixing the issue.
"How can we improve our systems? How can we tighten up our communication gaps? Those are all things we can learn."
In the days following the incident, which coincided with the start of winter vacation week, the school has attempted to help students who were emotionally impacted. Special emotional support counselors have been at Framingham High throughout this week to help students discuss the incident.
Framingham Public Schools announced that the high school would have a delayed start when classes resume on Monday. The delayed start will allow teachers and staff to prepare and organize for students' arrival. The day will start with students attending the same class they were in at the time of the incident, allowing them to discuss the events with the same teacher and peers they experienced it with last Friday.
"The timing of it was difficult, with everyone going away for vacation, right away and trying to get people back," Tremblay said. "We are doing a delayed opening on Monday when they return so we can have time with faculty before students come back into the room. Students have come in during the week to take advantage of the counselor support, and I've made myself available at the high school, as has the high school administrative staff. There is real trauma that came out of this. Somebody told me that they are not the same person today as they were on Friday, and that is pretty deep."

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

State Inspector General quietly referred at least four other lab employees for prosecution — but no charges were brought.


From MassCann

Disgraced state chemist Annie Dookhan was falsely labeled the “sole bad actor” who submitted bogus test results in the biggest drug lab scandal in US history, according to just released court documents that suggest other employees at the Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain may have escaped accountability for their roles.

Former State Inspector General Glenn Cunha famously concluded that Dookhan alone bore criminal responsibility for falsifying drug evidence that led to thousands of convictions being thrown out over the last decade. But, by the time Cunha released his report in 2014, he had already quietly referred another lab employee to then-Attorney General Martha Coakley for criminal prosecution, according to the new documents.

Eventually, Cunha referred at least three more Hinton Lab chemists or supervisors to Coakley’s successor Maura Healey for alleged misconduct — including falsely labeling substances illegal drugs when they weren’t, spiking samples with illegal drugs or lying to investigators.

None of the four lab employees that Cunha identified was ever charged and their identities were not disclosed until now. A fifth referral was found in the former IG’s documents, but it appears that referral was never forwarded to the attorney general’s office.

The Dookhan case was politically sensitive for Coakley, unfolding as she was mounting her unsuccessful 2014 campaign against Charlie Baker for governor. During the campaign, she vowed that there would not be another drug lab scandal under her administration. Some defense attorneys suspect that Cunha, a former assistant attorney general, was trying to help Coakley by blaming Dookhan alone.

But legal experts note that criminal referrals are just recommendations and prosecutors sometimes decline to seek charges if they don’t think the evidence is strong enough.

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Patrick Haggan ordered the Inspector General’s records to be released to the public on Monday, capping a months-long campaign by defense attorneys who suspected the records could show potentially criminal misconduct by other lab employees aside from Dookhan.

In his decision, Haggan wrote that defendants caught up in the scandal as well as the public at large have a “valid interest” in reviewing documents from the former inspector general’s investigation — despite Cunha’s desire to keep them confidential.

The “policy of maintaining confidentiality must yield to defendants’ rights to a fair trial,” Haggan wrote in his nine-page decision, noting that allegations of misconduct by government employees “could affect the integrity of criminal convictions.”

Cunha, who completed his second five-year term as inspector general last year, said he wanted to review the decision before commenting.

Greg Batten, who represents Ricky Simmons, one of the defendants who fought for the release of these documents, called the decision “a big deal for thousands of people and the criminal justice system. It’s a big deal for the courts and everybody who has been lied to.”

Defense lawyers say they will now ask judges to throw out any conviction that was obtained through testing at the Hinton Lab between 2003 and 2012 — regardless of who the chemist was.

They say that could result in the overturning of tens of thousands of cases in addition to the more than 35,000 cases that involved testing by Dookhan and another chemist in Western Massachusetts that the state Supreme Judicial Court already ordered dismissed.

On the other hand, some judges may decide that, unless a chemist was actually prosecuted or at least charged, any conviction tied to their testing should remain in place.

Former Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is now a lawyer in private practice, declined comment on the cases, but pointed out that her office received many referrals for criminal prosecution from a variety of agencies.

“We would do our best to evaluate them on their merits,” Coakley said. “There were a lot of referrals that wouldn’t necessarily result in charges being pursued.”

Dookhan went to prison for three years after pleading guilty to evidence tampering including contaminating samples intentionally and testifying on results for tests she never did. In one case, she falsely certified that table salt was a class E controlled substance, authorities said. Another time she said a cashew was cocaine.

She was released on parole in 2016.

The fallout from Dookhan’s 2012 arrest prompted then-Governor Deval Patrick to permanently close the Hinton Lab where she worked.

Patrick asked Cunha in November 2012 to provide an “independent assessment” of the drug lab operations, outside of the attorney general’s office. In the first of three reports, issued in 2014, Cunha concluded that Dookhan was the “sole bad actor” at the lab, which was beset by mismanagement and poor standards.

In all three reports, he said he did not find evidence that any other employees “engaged in misfeasance or malfeasance that impacted the reliability of drug testing.” The newly released documents show that lawyers for the IG repeatedly denied making any criminal referrals.

In fact, Cunha, who previously worked for Coakley in the attorney general’s office, did refer several other Hinton employees for possible criminal prosecution, the newly released records show.

It is unclear how serious the allegations were against the other lab employees because the attorney general’s office never brought charges against them.

According to the newly released documents, three months before he issued his 2014 report on the drug lab, Cunha referred to the attorney general’s office Julie Nassif, who oversaw the Division of Analytical Chemistry within the Department of Public Health at the time of Dookhan’s crimes.

He alleged that she misled the state police when they interviewed her about Dookhan’s misconduct. She was fired in 2012, according to published reports.

A lawyer for Nassif declined to comment.

In July 2014, Cunha made criminal referrals for another supervisor, Charles Salemi, as well as other unnamed chemists. Cunha said they certified that a substance called BZP was an illegal drug when they knew that under Massachusetts law it was not, the new records show. Salemi retired in 2012.

Salemi could not be reached for comment.

Then, in a June 2015 e-mail, the IG’s general counsel Audrey Mark referred two other chemists to the attorney general’s office: Sosha Haynes and Kate Corbett. Both were accused of spiking samples to make them appear as illegal drugs, according to the new documents.

In one case, Mark wrote, Haynes tested a single sample five times, initially detecting no cocaine, but by the fifth try, she detected a strong presence of the drug. Haynes worked at the lab in 2004 and was gone before the Dookhan scandal unfolded, according to state records.

Corbett, meanwhile, tested one sample for oxycodone three times, initially finding a weak presence, but, by the third try, she found clear presence of the drug. She was fired in 2013 for falsely claiming she had a chemistry degree, according to published reports, but her attorney Doug Brooks said that Merrimack College later acknowledged she was entitled to the degree.

“Any IG referral against Kate Corbett was baseless,” Brooks said. “Kate even went on to testify on behalf of the government in a subsequent federal matter.”

Staff in the inspector general’s office wrote e-mails alleging that various unnamed Hinton employees had mishandled drug tests, raising the possibility that even more employees were involved in wrongdoing. Mark, the IG general counsel, prepared a criminal referral letter for multiple chemists, but they were never sent to the attorney general.

Dookhan became a household name in the months after her arrest in September 2012, leaving a long trail of falsified drug analyses as well as e-mails that showed she was anything but a neutral witness in the justice system. Instead, Dookhan viewed herself as part of the prosecution team, openly saying that her goal was “getting [drug dealers] off the street.”

It took many more months after Dookhan’s guilty plea before the misdeeds of a second chemist, Sonja Farak, working in a different lab, came to light. Farak, who primarily worked in Amherst, was accused of using drugs she stole on the job.

Lawyers representing four drug defendants began seeking documents related to Cunha’s investigation in 2021 because, after the Farak case, they suspected other chemists engaged in wrongdoing.

Last July, Middlesex Superior Court Judge John Lu ordered the former IG to allow prosecutors to review his records. A Middlesex County assistant district attorney, Ryan Rall, combed through more than 100,000 electronic records from Cunha’s office until he discovered the documents related to referrals and potential wrongdoing by other chemists.

But the documents remained unavailable to the public until Monday when Haggan released them.

Robert McGovern, a spokesman for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, called the release of the documents “the first important step in a longer process during which we hope to learn more about the full extent of the ongoing drug lab scandal. ... The legitimacy of the legal system has been tested throughout this dark moment.”

Friday, February 3, 2023

How Beacon Hill works

I had to copy this from  It says it all about our legislature and Beacon Hill.

Bill filing: something of a racket.

We're heavy into the season when consultants and lobbyists are pitching stories to reporters and posting on social about the exciting news that proposal x is in play, having been filed by the consultant's client or client organization. Part of a bill-info service or a lobbyist's stock in trade is assuring customers they won't miss progress on vital legislation as it advances through the process.

The thing is though, as a practical matter, almost nothing does advance, and truth to tell, the hired guns know it. Of the 2,000-plus pieces of legislation filed last session (2,298 at the deadline and plenty more subsequently), maybe a few dozen of serious import made it into the law books, and most never got anywhere near the governor's desk.

Nevertheless, interesting bill ideas are fabulous fodder for press conferences and news stories, and press conferences and news stories are what we're getting now. Don't misunderstand, this isn't a terrible thing — the ideas and issues floated in the legislation are often urgently provocative or conscience-activating, and they spark discussions worth having. But are they news? Yes and no.

There's another stratum to this — the genre of bills that have to do with the required gauges of wire in construction, or the rules of practices for dental technicians - measures that provide billable hours for lobbyists, either pro or con, and have almost no other function or impact. Lobbyists have in the past been rumored to file bills so they can get paid to block them.

There was a fine story today on the front page of the Globe, however you define "front page" in 2023, about a bill that would allow prisoners to get time off their sentences by donating organs. Anyone who's been in the State House a while knows the odds of this measure passing are maybe the same as Tom Brady coming out of re-retirement (and really, you never know). Yet there it is — fodder. And we will not be so hypocritical as to assert we're not happy to munch away.