SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 22, 2012

Drug suspect gets deal

Powell to serve 1-2 years in case affected by lab scandal

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Dwayne Damont Powell was carrying enough drugs when he was arrested to send him to prison for as long as 25 years, and a record that would have required a judge to impose at least five years behind bars.

Not to mention the struggle with police, during which he nearly got hold of an officer’s gun during the August 2010 arrest in Beverly.

But Powell, 40, will serve just one to two years in state prison after pleading guilty yesterday to a series of reduced charges, the result of a plea agreement reached by prosecutors.

He has an alleged rogue state police chemist named Annie Dookhan to thank for the opportunity.

Dookhan, who was arraigned Thursday on charges that include tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice, was involved in the testing of two of the three types of drugs found on Powell and in his car during his arrest.

Powell’s is just one of some 34,000 cases that Dookhan was involved in before she resigned last March. Her alleged misdeeds, including tampering with drug evidence to inflate the amounts and certifying evidence as drugs without actually testing the items, have called into question hundreds, if not thousands, of convictions.

Powell had 147 oxycodone tablets and five bags of cocaine, as well as marijuana, when he was arrested, prosecutor Michael Sheehan told a Salem Superior Court judge yesterday.

He also had more than $8,000 in cash.

The pills and cocaine were sent to the now-closed Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain, where Dookhan was the chemist who tested them.

Beverly police had been investigating drug activity in the area near Dane Street Beach that summer. On the afternoon of Aug. 5, while conducting surveillance, they spotted Powell pull into the area near Lyons Park.

Police said at the time that as they approached his car, his jaw dropped. One officer opened the door, and as he did so, a bag of blue pills, 30 milligram oxycodone tablets, fell out. At the time, the pills were selling for $30 each.

As the officers attempted to arrest him, Powell struggled, at one point pulling the holster off of Ipswich detective Edward Gallivan’s utility belt.

It was the threat of being pepper-sprayed that led Powell to submit to being arrested.

Prosecutors reduced charges of trafficking in oxycontin to possession with intent to distribute, and dropped a part of another charge that alleged that he was engaging in a subsequent offense of dealing cocaine (Powell had a conviction for cocaine distribution in 2002). Powell pleaded guilty to the reduced charges, as well as marijuana possession with intent to distribute and resisting arrest.

Powell spent 285 days in jail before yesterday’s plea, some of that time before he made $5,000 bail in the case and the rest following his arrest in July on new drug possession charges, as well as a charge of illegally possessing fireworks.

He received credit for all of that time yesterday, which means he’ll be eligible to seek parole in 80 days.

The agreement was worked out between prosecutors and Powell’s lawyer, Russell Sobelman, who said outside court yesterday that Powell weighed the risks of going to trial even with potentially tainted lab results against the “safety” of a plea bargain.

“We thought it was a fair compromise,” said Sobelman.

Judge Howard Whitehead questioned Powell about his decision, reminding him that the drug lab “irregularities” and Dookhan’s lack of credibility might help his case, but Powell was clear that he wanted to accept the deal.

Powell was smiling as he left the witness stand, wishing the judge a merry Christmas.

Dookhan is facing one charge stemming from an Essex County case, that of Raymond Garcia, who was arrested in Haverhill in 2006 and convicted two years ago of cocaine trafficking based on her testimony. Garcia, who was serving a 10-year prison term, was granted a stay of his sentence earlier this month pending the outcome of a hearing on a motion for a new trial, said a spokeswoman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.