Judge dismisses criminal charges against US university chemist over lab death

Patrick Harran faced charges after a research assistant died in a chemical fire.

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Patrick Harran pictured waking out of a Superior Criminal Courts building in LA in 2012.

Charges against chemist Patrick Harran stemming from a 2009 lab accident, have been dropped.Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP/Shutterstock

A judge in Los Angeles county has dismissed a criminal case against chemist Patrick Harran, who faced charges of violating health and safety standards after an accidental death in his laboratory nine years ago.

The charges stemmed from a 2009 incident in which Sheharbano Sangji, a research assistant in Harran’s lab at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), died from third-degree burns incurred during a chemical fire. Sangji was handling t-butyl lithium with a syringe when the compound exploded into flames.

In 2011, the Los Angeles district attorney had charged Harran with three felony counts of “willful violation of an occupational safety and health standard causing the death of an employee” ― a fourth felony count was added in 2013. Harran was the first academic chemist in the United States to face criminal charges over a lab accident.

Under a 2014 agreement with law-enforcement officials, Harran was required to meet certain terms — including hundreds of hours of community service at a hospital and talking about lab safety to university students — or see his case go to trial.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge determined that Harran had now met the terms of the agreement, and dismissed the charges on 6 September, according to Thomas O’Brien, Harran’s lawyer.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06726-1
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