As reported here on September 5, the state crime lab at Jamaica Plain, in Massachusetts, has become the subject of intense scrutiny after it was discovered that lab personnel ignored basic protocols and tainted evidence, perhaps deliberately, endangering thousands of cases. The problems occurred while the lab was under the jurisdiction of the state’s Department of Public Health (several months ago, the State Police took over the facility). The unfolding scandal resulted yesterday in the resignation of Massachusetts Health Commissioner, John Auerbach. Auerbach’s statement read, in part:
It is with deep regret and with a sense of responsibility to uphold the high ideals Governor Patrick demands that I announce today my resignation as Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. It is clear that there was insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers surrounding the former Department of Public Health drug lab in Jamaica Plain – and ultimately, as Commissioner, the buck stops with me. What happened at the drug lab was unacceptable and the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal justice system. We owe it to ourselves and the public to make sure we understand exactly how and why this happened. I will continue to work with investigators to make sure we find answers and accept responsibility.
The degree to which Auerbach admits both his own responsibility and the damage the problems will cause across the criminal justice system is unusual. The regular course for public officials is to deny the scope of the problem, deflect responsibility, and resist change, and there is none of that here. Of course, this may be because the scandal is actually worse than we know now, and Auerbach is leaving before things get worse. He may also be the one official thrown under the bus to stem the scandal. But it may be that Auerbach, and those he works for, are serious: the impact will, indeed, be devastating, and we do owe it to ourselves to get to the bottom of it.
Watch the FE blog for more.