Questionable convictions, tainted drug tests, and untrustworthy employees — filmmaker Erin Lee Carr’s newest docuseries, the shocking “How to Fix a Drug Scandal,” has all that and more as it focuses on the layers of misconduct that occurred in Massachusetts that was triggered by drug technician Annie Dookhan's fabricated test results.
"Annie Dookhan was the key person in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the history of Massachusetts,” Scott Allen, a journalist for the Boston Globe, told the Netflix docuseries’ producers.
Soon after her arrest, another lab technician in the state — Sonja Farak — was also arrested for tainting evidence. Both were employed to test drugs confiscated by law enforcement. The future of defendants' lives relied on them conducting the drug testing in an honest and professional manner, but that is not how they did business.
This ultimately led to an attempt to minimize the damage as the attorney general's office initially wanted to dismiss the thousands of convictions in the state which were affected by Dookhan and Farak's misconduct. The docuseries dives deep into the heart of who these two lab technicians were and what drove them to recklessly tamper with evidence and in essence play with the lives of others. So who is Dookhan, and where is she now?
Who is Dookhan?
Dookhan was born Annie Sadiyya Khan in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago in 1977. She moved to the United States with her family as a child and was later naturalized as an American citizen, the Associated Press reported in 2012. Much of her childhood was spent in the Boston suburb of Stoughton.
She was quiet and unassuming in some ways, but she was also deeply motivated, as the docuseries points out.
"She was a first-generation American, and I mean, like many children of immigrants, they feel that they've got to try harder to get ahead,” Allen said in the docuseries, calling her a "striver."
She was a “solid citizen” and a "track star" while attending Boston Latin Academy, an elite prep school in the Boston area, he noted.
That sentiment was repeated by others: ‘‘She seemed like an overachieving sort of kid,’’ Frank Clark, who was her neighbor when she was a teen, told the Associated Press in 2012.
She attended Regis College in 1996 and left in 1998 to transfer to UMass Boston, where she majored in biochemistry. Dookhan was a member of the Pre-Med Society and the Chemistry Club and got top grades in her field, according to the Associated Press.
After graduating, she began working as a drug lab technician at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston in 2003, where Sonja Farak — the other disgraced lab technician featured in the docuseries — also once worked. A year into that job, she married software engineer Surrendranath Dookhan. They bought a house in the Boston suburb of Franklin and had a son in 2006, according to the Associated Press.
Dookhan excelled as a lab technician, but to a concerning degree. She completed more tests than any of her colleagues. She’d show up at the break of dawn and she’d always be the last one to leave the lab, according to the docuseries. This made her a prized employee but also the target of envy and suspicion.
Dookhan's Lies, Explained
It turned out, she wasn’t a prolific worker at all. Instead, she was dry labbing her work — which means she wasn’t testing the confiscated drugs that were sent her way by law enforcement at all. She was falsifying data instead.
One of the evidence techs in the lab noticed a discrepancy with some of her work in 2011, and her supervisors were alerted. She was accused of lying about drug samples she analyzed and of forging a colleague's initials on paperwork, according to a 2012 CBS News report. This ultimately led to her resignation in March 2012 and her arrest in September of the same year. It cultivated in the revelation that she compromised thousands of cases with her lies.
Defense attorney Luke Ryan, who went to bat for clients who were affected by both Farak and Dookhan’s misconduct, told Oxygen.com that there were times when Dookhan's false results would be passed on to another chemist who would not find any controlled substance in the sample.
"Then instead of acknowledging that she got it wrong, she would take from another sample and she’d introduce a narcotic into a sample that did not contain any and then she’d take someone who shouldn’t have been in the system any longer and turn them into a drug felon," Ryan said.
Because of her fabricated results, over 20,000 people were convicted on drug charges. It may never be confirmed if some of those defendants actually possessed real narcotics due to Dookhan's tampering.
He said he has less sympathy for Dookhan than Farak because Farak, in theory, still tested all the drugs — but she did so while high.
"[Dookhan's] action is quantifyingly different than someone who just used her job to feed her addiction," Ryan told Oxygen.com.
In addition to lying about the drug test results, Dookhan made a series of other bizarre lies. All of them appeared to have the end result of making her look good.
She lied on her resume and claimed she graduated high school magna cum laude, even though her school didn’t give such an honor, Esquire reports. She lied about obtaining a masters degree at University of Amherst. She told her colleagues at the lab that she was getting an advanced degree at Harvard but in reality she was doing nothing of the kind, as the docuseries pointed out. She also claimed she and her husband were in the process of a divorce, but no divorce papers were ever filed, according to Esquire. Her husband did, however, warn a prosecutor that his wife was a pathological liar in text message two years before she was formally caught, according to a 2013 Boston Globe report.
She was, however, going through some real problems in 2009, including a miscarriage, CBS News reported in 2012.
The docuseries also showed how she created fake emails and conversations to impress others and to make it look like her colleagues thought she was desirable. Emails also revealed that Dookhan was having inappropriate conversations with prosecutors. It was clear that she sided with them and wished to impress them rather than acting as an impartial drug tester.
"The attitude that comes out through her emails is someone who is kind of like a cop in a lab coat," Ryan told Oxygen.com, adding that he believes that logic was something taught to her in a way that she took it to the extreme.
Carr, the filmmaker behind the series, admitted to Oxygen.com that she found Dookhan's behavior difficult to explain.
"I think I was a lot more successful at humanizing Sonja than Annie Dookhan," she said. "My question was, 'Did she think what she was doing was unethical at the time?' It’s almost as if I’ve never been able to answer that."
She felt like she couldn't access that part of her story.
"There’s no one who will talk about her from her family. She was somebody who did not have many friends," Carr explained. "I have a whole episode about her but it was very difficult to really understand her."
Where Is Dookhan Now?
Dookhan was arrested on Sept. 28, 2012. She pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, perjury, and tampering with evidence and she was sentenced to three to five years in prison in November 2013, the Boston Herald reported in 2016. She also pleaded guilty to lying under oath that she had a master’s degree in chemistry.
She was paroled in 2016 after serving two years behind bars.
Her attorney Nicolas Gordon told the Boston Herald at the time that she was focused on family and “normalcy” following her release.
“She’s moving forward with her life and she has a very positive outlook on the future,” he told the outlet. “I don’t think she’s made any major life decisions about what she’s going to do. She’s certainly keeping her options open.”
Thanks to the dedication of defense attorneys, over 20,000 of the convictions that were worked on by Dookhan were dismissed in 2017. Her misconduct, in addition to the misconduct of Farak, led to one of the largest dismissals in American history.
Dookhan has not spoken to the press since her arrest. Oxygen.com did not succeed in reaching her.
"I don't know what she’s doing now," Carr told Oxygen.com. "I’m a weirdo. I wish the best for literally everybody and I see everybody as not equal to their worst mistakes."
“How To Fix A Drug Scandal” is streaming now on Netflix.
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