FRAMINGHAM — With the fallout from a criminal probe into Framingham’s former evidence room officer beginning to spill over into the courtroom, Middlesex County prosecutors disclosed new information this week that could hamper scores of additional cases.
In a notice sent Thursday to defendants, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office revealed that Framingham police officers were previously able to access the department’s evidence room using a hidden key.
According to a copy of the notice — obtained by the Daily News through a public records request — those who knew about the key could enter the evidence room without being recorded.
Once inside, officers may also have been able to enter a secure area known as “the cage” where evidence is kept. Enclosed by wire mesh, the secure area was sometimes left unlocked, according to the notice. Other times, the key was left sitting in an open metal box.
Framingham police fixed the problem by changing the lock on or before Sept. 21, 2015, according to the district attorney’s office.
After being notified of the circumstances last week, prosecutors began disclosing the information Thursday to all defendants who face pending criminal charges filed by Framingham police.
The information could provide a new avenue for those accused of crimes to challenge the evidence in their cases, said Peter Elikann, former chairman of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section.
“Even if there isn’t proof positive that the evidence was tampered with, the integrity of that room is under such question that the reliability of evidence may not be able to hold up in a court of law,” Elikann said.
The disclosure threatens to further complicate cases that may already be vulnerable because of questions swirling around the department’s former evidence room supervisor.
According to the town’s lawyer, in September 2015, authorities launched a criminal investigation into money that went missing from police headquarters after discovering empty police envelopes inside the vehicle of former officer Alan Dubeshter.
Framingham police immediately placed Dubeshter on administrative leave and notified the district attorney. The matter has since been transferred to investigators from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
Dubeshter, a 30-year veteran of the police department, was previously in charge of receiving, cataloging and maintaining evidence in criminal cases, as well as delivering evidence to various state labs for testing and destroying evidence from closed cases, according to town records.
Dubeshter resigned April 30, approximately seven months after being placed on administrative leave.
Authorities have largely declined to discuss the probe, which has already led to the dismissal of evidence in at least one case.
According to court records, Middlesex County prosecutors were forced in August to drop several drug possession charges against a 56-year-old Framingham man after his lawyer successfully argued the evidence against him should be barred from trial.
The man was allegedly carrying a digital scale and three small ziplock bags of cocaine when Framingham police pulled over his Chrysler minivan on Saint Lo Street on March 21, 2015.
On Aug. 3, Judge Jennifer Stark allowed a motion from the man’s lawyer to prohibit the state from entering drugs and any other items seized during the arrest into evidence.
The decision came after the state declined requests in May, June and July 2016 from the man’s lawyer to provide information about Dubeshter’s pending criminal case.
The man’s lawyer requested Dubeshter’s personnel file in December 2015 after learning about the investigation from a newspaper article. The lawyer also sought internal affairs reports and “any other information regarding (Dubeshter’s) reputation for truth and veracity.”
After the evidence was barred, prosecutors agreed to drop the drug charges. He was found not responsible for three other motor vehicle charges. A judge then ordered Framingham police in September to return the $2,358 seized from the defendant during his arrest.
Prosecutors are now notifying all defendants of the ongoing evidence room probe, according to Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan. The DA’s office is also furnishing copies of a Sept. 24, 2015 letter sent to Dubeshter by Chief Ken Ferguson regarding the investigation.
The Daily News last month requested copies of all such communications from the DA regarding the integrity of evidence stored at the Framingham Police Department. Ryan’s office initially failed to respond to the request, prompting the newspaper to file an appeal with the Public Records Division in Secretary of State William Galvin’s Office.
The newspaper also recently appealed a decision by Framingham police to withhold two audits of the evidence room conducted after Dubeshter was placed on leave. Police argued the records are exempt from disclosure because they pertain to an ongoing investigation, and could “potentially alert the suspect of the activities of the investigative officials involved and impede or taint the investigation.”
The newspaper countered that Framingham police failed to sufficiently explain why the investigation would be impacted by release of the audits, and that the public interest in their disclosure outweighs the need to maintain secrecy around the one-year-old investigation.
Shawn Williams, an official in Galvin’s office, ruled in the police department’s favor, finding in an Oct. 18 decision that the audits can remain shielded from public view until the attorney general’s investigation is complete.
A spokeswoman for Healey’s office declined Friday to discuss the investigation, or to confirm its existence.