Thursday, September 13, 2018

BREAKING: Charges dismissed against Prof. Patrick Harran in #SheriSangji case

Via Kim Christensen of the Los Angeles Times:
A Los Angeles judge has dismissed criminal charges against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran, nearly 10 years after a staff research assistant suffered fatal burns in a laboratory he supervised. 
In what was thought to be the first U.S. criminal case arising from an academic lab accident, Harran was charged with four felony counts of willfully violating state occupational health and safety standards in the death of Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji, who died 18 days after the Dec. 29, 2008 fire. 
In June 2014, Harran struck a deferred-prosecution agreement in which he would avoid the charges if he met certain conditions for five years. He agreed to teach organic chemistry courses for college-bound inner-city students in the summers, perform 800 hours of community service in the UCLA Hospital system and pay $10,000 to the Grossman Burn Center. 
Last week at a regularly scheduled status hearing on the case, Harran’s attorney Thomas O’Brien asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli to shorten the term of the agreement, which was to have run until June 2019. Lomeli, who had approved the original deal, granted the request. 
“Dr. Harran completed all of the conditions he was supposed to complete, so the court dismissed the matter,” O’Brien said Wednesday. 
Prosecutors objected to the dismissal. 
Sangji’s sister, Naveen Sangji, said in an email to The Times that that the family was “not informed that this was even a possibility” and should have been given an opportunity to raise its own objection. She said she learned of the decision on Tuesday, five days after Lomeli rendered it. 
“Our family had planned to be present and to speak, as is our right, at the final hearing which was to be nine months from now,” she said. The family has long contended that the deferred-prosecution agreement was little more than “a slap on the wrist” for Harran. 
Sheri Sangji, 23, was not wearing a protective lab coat when a plastic syringe she was using to transfer t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another came apart, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air. She suffered extensive burns and died 18 days later.
Read the whole Los Angeles Times article here. Here's coverage from a San Diego television station.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by this, but I am rather taken aback by it, especially since there was a 5 year length for the deferred prosecution. Remarkable.

UPDATE: C&EN's summation of the legal proceedings. (article written by Jyllian Kemsley.)



  2. Sheri's brother was my physics TA at McGill in 2013-2014, and I always imagined I could physically see his sadness and grief. As a chemistry PhD student now, it's very difficult and depressing for me to understand the circumstances that led to her death. I think about it a lot and try to honor her memory.

  3. I can see why people are willing to take so much crap to be professors. It's like being President, or a big CEO, in that nothing is ever your fault. Whether it's safety violations, or dishonesty in the lab, or harassment, or business dealings over patents, being a professor looks like being a lord, and grad students and postdocs are the serfs, or the helots, at least as long as the money comes in to pay the local earl, duke, or king. It looks like apprenticeship would actually be an advance sometimes, since it would move grad school out of the Dark Ages toward the Renaissance.

    The only caveat is that I don't think there was ever going to be justice. I don't know how much better the Sangjis would have felt in nine months after having their peace, because most likely they would have been ignored, and everything would have been discharged, and nothing more would have come of it. It's insulting that even that pretense was too much to abide, but it was still pretense. No one is power was ever going to be held responsible.

  4. Are people still joining this guy's lab? Maybe the best one can get is a boycott - no students/post-docs means no work. Probably naive to think this could be pulled off considering people still join Sames' lab.

  5. I honestly don't think this guy is any more culpable than his department and University. The relative lack safety requirements in many academic labs is abhorrent to me. After this accident, I recall reading a story of at least one major university not requiring lab coats for any grad students nor undergraduates.

    Quite symbolic of academic safety standards in my experience.

  6. My wife's department doesn't require lab coats (too expensive the say, but they have no compunction requiring the students to buy access to online homework), and then to improve lab safety they have the kids watch the UCLA video. Close the place down already, it's overdue.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20