When the Investigator Becomes the Investigated

Sacramento, CA — UCLA professor Patrick Harran was criminally charged for the accidental death of 23-year-old student Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji but in a bizarre twist of events, the head investigator for the case ended up the one being questioned after the defense brought up the issue that the chief investigator committed murder when he was 16 years old.

Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji was working for less than three months in Professor Harran’s organic chemistry lab when the fatal accident occurred. According to witness accounts, Sheri was transferring a volatile chemical (1.8 ounces of t-butyl lithium) from a sealed container onto another. As she was doing this, the plastic syringe she was using came apart and the chemical ignited when it came in contact with air. She was apparently wearing just a synthetic sweater which caught fire, the sweater melted onto her skin and after 18 days in the hospital she died.

Professor Harran and UCLA deemed the incident as a tragic accident and stated that Sheri was an experienced chemist and knew the procedures of the experiment she was conducting but she had opted not to use a lab gown. The negligence of not wearing a lab gown ended up in a personal injury case that resulted in accidental death which in some cases may warrant criminal liability for those who were supposed to have a duty of care and responsibility for the safety of others.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health brought in their senior special investigator to the case, a guy by the name of Brian A.Baudendistel. Investigator Baudendistel was a key figure in setting up the criminal charges against Professor Harran and UCLA and this was all documented on his 95-page report blaming the accident on the defendants. Which is what happened to Professor Harran and the University of California Regents when they were charged with willfully violating California’s occupational safety and health standards.

Harran’s defense attorney, Thomas O’Brien filed a petition in court to quash the prosecution’s attempt to arrest his client and question the credibility of Baudendistel. The motion discusses that the judge should not have been too trusting on Baudendistel’s report suggesting to arrest his client when Baudendistel failed to disclose his juvenile background.

The filed motion stated, “”Incredibly, the affidavit failed to disclose … that at age 16, Investigator Baudendistel murdered a man in cold blood during a failed drug deal and almost certainly lied or deliberately misled the District Attorney within the past two months about his involvement in that heinous crime.”

The defense is insisting that California Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) investigator Brian A. Baudendistel is the same Brian A. Baudendistel who in 1985, along with 2 accomplices, enticed Michael Murray whom he met at a bar in El Dorado (a Northern California town) to follow him to an alley to buy drugs from the victim. The said Baudendistel and his accomplices then robbed him of the methamphetamine he had on him that amounted to $3000.

The 26-year-old Michael Meyer was on his motorcycle when he got hit by bullet from a shotgun killing him on the spot. His body was only recovered a month after the incident. Baudendistel was 16 at the time of the crime and had been tried in juvenile court.

In California, juvenile records are not made public and once these records are sealed by the state, the record of the crime is erased from the public’s memory. But the murder had wide media coverage when it occurred from newspaper outlets like the Placerville Times and the Mountain Democrat.

Initially, the prosecutors advised the defense that it was not the same person who committed the crime but recanted their statement when Investigator Baudendistel’s fingerprints matched that of the Baudendistel who committed the crime. Investigator Baudendistel is now 43 years old which would also be the age of the guilty Baudendistel.

If Baudendistel is the same person and he failed to disclose his involvement in a heinous crime when he was still a minor, this would enable the defense to quash the warrant to arrest Harran because “no prosecution was properly brought” within the 3-year statute of limitations for such cases.

If Harran is found guilty, he could get a maximum of 4 1/2 years of jail time. As for the University of California Board of Regents, they will face a stiff fine up to $4.5 million.

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