Patrick Harran

Prof. Patrick Harran, a UCLA professor, had his AAAS Fellow nomination rescinded over the death of his Indian American lab research assistant in 2009. (ucla.edu photo)

LOS ANGELES — The American Association for the Advancement of Science voted Dec. 22 to rescind UCLA Professor Patrick Harran’s nomination to be a Fellow, the Daily Bruin reported.

The association rescinded his nomination after learning the Los Angeles District Attorney filed felony charges in 2011 against Harran, a chemistry and biochemistry professor, for labor code violations that led to the death of one of his lab technicians.

Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji, an Indian American research assistant, died in 2009 after using chemical t-butyl lithium, a highly flammable substance, in Harran’s lab without proper safety equipment. Sangji suffered second- and third-degree burns and died in the hospital 18 days later from the injuries she sustained.

In the criminal investigation that followed, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health determined that Sangji lacked proper safety training and equipment. Sangji’s case was the first official criminal case to involve a laboratory accident.

Sangji’s family wrote to the AAAS Council Dec. 9 to demand the council to withdraw Harran’s nomination, alleging Harran’s misconduct caused the death of their daughter.

In a Dec. 14 statement, AAAS officials said they would reevaluate his nomination after committee members decided not enough of Harran’s information was reviewed.

Harran accepted responsibility for Sangji’s death in a settlement six years after the accident. As part of the settlement, Harran completed 800 hours of community service and paid a fine of $10,000.

As reported by India-West, Harran, who was charged with four felony counts of safety violations in the 2009 fire in his lab that resulted in the death of Sangji, avoided jail time in a plea bargaining deal with prosecutors.

Harran and UCLA contended that her death was a tragic accident, not a crime.

The district attorney originally charged the regents of the University of California and Harran with violating the state labor code in December 2011.

In July 2012, the district attorney agreed to dismiss all charges against the University of California, after the regents agreed to “acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated.”

The university also paid a $70,000 fine, set up a scholarship fund in Sangji’s name, tightened safety training and standards in the lab and developed a hazard-assessment tool that labs must update annually or whenever conditions change.

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