The lengthy criminal case arising out of the 2009 death of lab assistant Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji from injuries sustained from a fire in the laboratory of University of California (UC), Los Angeles, chemistry professor Patrick Harran ended in a settlement announced today between the Los Angeles district attorney and Harran. Harran and UC both faced felony charges. The university settled and accepted responsibility in 2012, while Harran, who faced the possibility of 4.5 years in prison if convicted, continued to fight the case.
Harran has agreed to do 800 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine. According to a press release, “[h]e will also speak to incoming UCLA students majoring in chemistry or biological sciences about the importance of lab safety and will design and teach an organic chemistry preparatory course each summer for the South Central Scholars, a volunteer organization that works to motivate inner-city high school students to attend college.” If he fulfills the terms of the agreement, and there are no further relevant health and safety violations, the case will be dismissed. Harran admitted no wrongdoing.
Sangji’s family isn’t happy with the settlement. “Our family has been devastated by the loss of a daughter and a sister,” they said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed that the Los Angeles District Attorney chose to settle this case rather than pursue a trial and seek justice for Sheri. … We do not understand how this man is allowed to continue running a laboratory, and supervising students and researchers.”
The case has focused national attention on the issue of inadequate safety measures in many academic labs. We will analyze the settlement in the next Taken for Granted column in early July.