Criminal charges stemming from a 2008 laboratory fire that killed a research assistant were dismissed against a UCLA chemistry professor last week, nine months earlier than expected and over the objection of prosecutors, the District Attorney’s Office confirmed Tuesday.
Patrick Harran entered into a five-year deferred-prosecution agreement with the District Attorney’s Office in 2014. Under the agreement, Harran was ordered to meet a series of requirements, including 800 hours of non-teaching community service at the UCLA Hospital System/UCLA Health Services.
Although that agreement was not scheduled to end until next June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli ruled during a hearing last Thursday that Harran had already met all the terms of the agreement, and he dismissed the criminal case against him, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Greg Risling, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors objected to the dismissal, which was granted “nine months earlier when the case was set to be dismissed.”
Harran, who still works at UCLA, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
He was charged in December 2011 with multiple felonies for allegedly violating the state’s Labor Code stemming from the death of 23-year-old Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji.
The aspiring law school student — who was not wearing a lab coat — suffered second- and third-degree burns in a Dec. 29, 2008, lab fire in which a highly flammable chemical agent spilled onto her and ignited. She died about 2 1/2 weeks later.
Criminal charges were also filed against the University of California Board of Regents, but those charges were dismissed in July 2012 as the result of an “enforcement agreement” that called for corrective measures. The agreement also mandated the use of laboratory coats while working on or adjacent to all hazardous chemicals, biological or unsealed radiological materials, along with the establishment of a $500,000 scholarship in Sangji’s name at UC Berkeley’s law school, where she had been accepted as a student.
When he reached his deferred-prosecution agreement, Harran acknowledged and accepted responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated the day of the fire and acknowledged that he was “the supervisor having direction, management and control of Sheharbano Sangji, who was employed as a research associate in defendant Harran’s laboratory.”
Along with the 800 hours of community service, the agreement called for Harran to pay a $10,000 fine benefiting the Grossman Burn Center, where Sangji was treated for her injuries.
The agreement also required Harran to develop a curriculum for and personally teach for five years an organic chemistry preparatory course to help college students involved in the South Central Scholars program, along with speaking to incoming UCLA students majoring in chemistry or biological sciences about the importance of laboratory safety.
The agreement called for dismissal of the case if Harran complied with all of the terms.
Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said in 2014 the agreement was the “best resolution possible,” despite objections by the victim’s family.