Other Rogue Medical Cases

Title: Gruesome Discovery: Brains, Hearts Found In Florida Storage Unit
Date: August 29, 2012
Source: RT

Abstract: A disgruntled medical examiner stored organs like brains and hearts in Tupperware containers and soda cups at a storage facility in Florida. The shock discovery was made by a man who bought the contents of the unit and was overcome by the stench.

The new owner, who acquired the storage unit in Pensacola through an auction, noticed a strange odor while sifting through the boxes upon boxes inside. Investigators eventually found a cup with a cracked lid on it, and a human heart inside. Formaldehyde, a chemical used to embalm corpses and organs, was leaking from it. 

Numerous plastic containers and cups with internal organs such as brains and hearts were also uncovered. Many of them had cracks, with “caustic chemicals” such as formaldehyde reportedly leaking out. 

How horrible it is for the families of these deceased to think that someone's loved one's organs are basically rotting away in a storage unit somewhere, it's horrible,” Jeff Martin, the director of the city’s District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office said.   

The storage facility was previously rented by Dr. Michael Berkland, who worked at the medical examiner’s office between 1997 and 2003, when he was fired for failing to file autopsy reports. Berkland also performed private autopsies, officials reported. 

Officials are now trying to locate the family members of those whose organs were found, but the task may be insurmountable, as most of the material is not labeled. 

While no charges have been filed against Berkland, officials were trying to determine whether the renegade doctor had broken any laws concerning the storage and disposal of human remains.

The company that owns the storage facility was unaware of what Berkland was actually using it for.

We never had any indication that anything was out of the ordinary, nor did anyone on our management team ever notice anything amiss during daily property checks,” Diane Piegza, vice president of corporate communications at Uncle Bob’s Self Storage noted. The company said Berkland told them he was using the facility to store household goods and office furniture. 

It turns out that Berkland had already lost his job as a medical examiner and medical license in another state before coming to Florida. In 1996, a Missouri court revoked his license for incorrectly stating on autopsy reports that sections of several brains he cut out were to be used for medical conferences and teaching purposes.  

Berkland argued at the time that the actions against him were politically motivated and unfair because he was unable to present evidence in his defense (RT, 2012)

Title: Ex-Medical Examiner Charged After Organs Found In Storage Unit Case
Date: September 8, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: A former medical examiner has been arrested on charges of keeping human remains in a rented storage unit in the Florida Panhandle.

Dr. Michael Berkland, 57, was arrested Friday on charges of improper storage of hazardous waste, keeping a public nuisance and driving with a suspended license. He was released from jail on $10,000 bail.

Berkland's attorney, Eric Stevenson, told the Pensacola News Journal that he and Berkland will start preparing their defense next week.

State Attorney Bill Eddins said more charges may be filed.

Crudely preserved brains, hearts, lungs and other organs and specimens were discovered in more than 100 containers last month in a Pensacola storage unit that Berkland had rented for about three years. The unit was auctioned off after Berkland defaulted on his payments, according to an arrest affidavit.

Berkland had declared the contents to be household goods, furniture, boxes, sporting goods and landscaping equipment. A man who bought the unit's contents discovered the human organs after becoming overpowered by a strange smell while sifting through the items, authorities said.

Ten cardboard boxes stacked in a corner of the unit contained "numerous individual containers with ... human remains stored in a liquid substance," according to the affidavit.

Most of the containers were labeled. About half the containers were medical grade and the other half included soda cups and plastic food containers, according to the affidavit.

The organs were stored in a liquid solution containing formaldehyde and methyl alcohol, authorities said.

"The remains included tissue samples and dissected organs. (Investigators) also advised that there were numerous whole organs, including hearts, brains, a liver and a lung," according to the affidavit.

Berkland worked at the District 1 Medical Examiner's Office in Pensacola from 1997 to 2003, when he was fired for not completing autopsy reports. Berkland's license to serve as a medical examiner in Florida has been withdrawn.

Before coming to Florida, Berkland had been fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Missouri, in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His doctor's license was ultimately revoked there.

The medical examiner's office in Pensacola said the organs found in the storage unit appear to have come from private autopsies Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in the Florida Panhandle and in Tallahassee.

Jeff Martin, director of the medical examiner's office, said about 10 families have been notified that their relatives' remains were in the unit.

Improper storage of hazardous waste carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, and keeping a public nuisance, a misdemeanor charge, could mean a 60-day jail term, according to the state attorney's office (Fox News, 2012).

Title: Mass. Chemist Accused Of Faking Police Lab Drug Tests Could Face More Charges In Scandal
Date: September 29, 2012
Washington Post

Abstract:  A chemist accused of lying about drug samples she tested at a state lab could face additional charges as prosecutors and defense attorneys sift through thousands of criminal cases that could be upended by her actions.

Annie Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, was arrested Friday in a burgeoning investigation that has already led to the shutdown of the lab, the resignation of the state’s public health commissioner and the release of more than a dozen drug defendants.

Many more defendants are expected to be released. Authorities say more than 1,100 inmates are serving time in cases in which Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist.

“Annie Dookhan’s alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the entire criminal justice system,” state Attorney General Martha Coakley said during a news conference after Dookhan’s arrest. “There are many victims as a result of this.”

Dookhan faces more than 20 years in prison on charges of obstruction of justice and falsely pretending to hold a degree from a college or university. She testified under oath that she holds a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, but school officials say they have no record of her receiving an advanced degree or taking graduate courses there.

State police say Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston. Defense lawyers and prosecutors are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the fallout.

Assistant Attorney General John Verner called the charges against Dookhan “preliminary” and said a “much broader” investigation is being conducted.

Verner said state police learned of Dookhan’s alleged actions in July after they interviewed a chemist at the lab who said he had observed “many irregularities” in Dookhan’s work.

Verner said Dookhan later acknowledged to state police that she sometimes would take 15 to 25 samples and instead of testing them all, she would test only five of them, then list them all as positive. She said that sometimes, if a sample tested negative, she would take known cocaine from another sample and add it to the negative sample to make it test positive for cocaine, Verner said.

Dookhan pleaded not guilty and was later released on $10,000 bail. She was ordered to turn over her passport, submit to GPS monitoring, and not have contact with any former or current employees of the lab.

Dookhan’s relatives and attorney declined to comment after the brief hearing in Boston Municipal Court. Her next court date is Dec. 3.

The obstruction charges accuse Dookhan of lying about drug samples she analyzed at the lab in March 2011 for a Suffolk County case, and for testifying under oath in August 2010 that she had an advanced degree from the University of Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley said at a news conference.

In one of the cases, Boston police had tested a substance as negative for cocaine, but when Dookhan tested it, she reported it as positive. Investigators later retested the cample and it came back negative, Verner said.

The only motive authorities have found so far is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker, Coakley said.

According to a state police report in August, Dookhan said she just wanted to get the work done and never meant to hurt anyone.

 “I screwed up big-time,” she is quoted as saying. “I messed up bad; it’s my fault. I don’t want the lab to get in trouble.”

Dookhan’s supervisors have faced harsh criticism for not removing her from lab duties after suspicions about her were first raised by her co-workers and for not alerting prosecutors and police. However, Coakley said, there is no indication so far of criminal activity by anyone else at the lab.

Co-workers began expressing concern about Dookhan’s work habits several years ago, but her supervisors allowed her to continue working. Dookhan was the most productive chemist in the lab, routinely testing more than 500 samples a month, while others tested 50 to 150.

One co-worker told state police he never saw Dookhan in front of a microscope. A lab employee saw Dookhan weighing drug samples without doing a balance check on her scale.

In an interview with state police late last month, Dookhan acknowledged faking test results for two to three years. She told police she identified some drug samples as narcotics simply by looking at them instead of testing them, a process known as dry labbing. She also said she forged the initials of colleagues and deliberately turned a negative sample into a positive for narcotics a few times.

“I hope the system isn’t treating the evidence against her the way she treated the evidence against several thousand defendants,” said defense attorney John T. Martin, who has a client who was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea based on concerns over Dookhan’s work.

Dookhan was suspended from lab duties after getting caught forging a colleague’s initials on paperwork in June 2011. She resigned in March as the Department of Public Health investigated. The lab was run by the department until July 1, when state police took over as part of a state budget directive (Washington Post, 2012)

Title: Paramedic May Have Tampered With Drugs, Infected Up To 57 Patients
Date: October 1, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: Boston health officials say a paramedic may have tampered with vials of drugs and infected dozens of people.
A city public health department spokesperson says that at least 57 people treated in a city-run ambulance may have been exposed to blood-borne illnesses. They say an unidentified paramedic may have tampered with syringes full of sedatives and painkillers during six-week period in the summer of 2011.
Officials are in the process of contacting potential victims to inform them and offer free medical testing.
Seven people who were treated by that paramedic have passed away, but officials believe the deaths were unrelated to the possible drug contamination.

A criminal investigation is underway. The paramedic was fired last summer, and so far, is not facing any charges.

Statement from Boston EMS:
"As part of an ongoing investigation initiated by Boston EMS into misconduct by one of its uniformed paramedics, the department has notified 57 patients that they potentially received compromised medications during EMS treatment.  The 57 patients received doses of controlled medications that may have been tampered with by the suspected employee during a six week period in the summer of 2011.

"All 57 patients have been offered free screening for infectious diseases, and the Boston Public Health Commission is running an incident hotline staffed by trained clinicians to answer questions and provide information to these individuals.  However, the department is not aware of the suspect having or transmitting an infectious disease to any patients.

"The paramedic in question has been relieved of all duties since the alleged misconduct was discovered, and EMS cannot comment on any details pertaining to the employee's activities because of an ongoing criminal investigation" (Fox News, 2012).