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Patrick Harran And L.A. District Attorney Reach Deal In Sheri Sangji Case

Lab Safety: Agreement mandates that UCLA professor complete community service and pay fine

by Michael Torrice , Jyllian Kemsley
June 27, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 26

Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times
Harran (right) sits with his attorney, Thomas P. O’Brien, in court on June 20.Harran (right) sits with his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, in court on June 20.
Two men in suits sit next to each other scowling mildly.
Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times
Harran (right) sits with his attorney, Thomas P. O’Brien, in court on June 20.Harran (right) sits with his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, in court on June 20.

A Los Angeles County judge approved on June 20 an agreement that could end a criminal case against University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry professor Patrick G. Harran.


Harran must:

Acknowledge and accept responsibility for lab conditions

Make no public statements denying responsibility

Adhere to state employee safety standards

Cooperate with state worker safety agency

Pay $10,000 to Grossman Burn Center

Create and teach an organic or general chemistry course for South Central Scholars

Perform 800 hours of nonteaching community service to UCLA Hospital System/UCLA Health Services

Speak to UCLA chemistry and biological sciences undergraduate students about the importance of laboratory safety

To see reactions to the settlement, visit

Harran was charged with four felony violations of the state labor code. The case originated from a 2008 fire in his lab that led to the death of research assistant Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji.

The deal mandates that Harran complete multiple forms of community service and pay a $10,000 fine. The charges were not dismissed. Instead, the case against Harran is effectively on hold while he completes the terms of the five-year agreement.

In a written statement released after the hearing, Sangji’s sister, Naveen Sangji, called the agreement “barely a slap on the wrist.” Harran had faced up to four-and-a-half years in prison.

In court, Harran read a statement, saying he was “ultimately responsible” for the safety of people working in his lab. “I have always felt I failed Sheri, and I deeply mourn her loss,” he said.

The case against Harran started on Dec. 27, 2011, when the district attorney’s (DA’s) office filed charges against him and the UC governing body. The DA’s office didn’t negotiate a deal with Harran until after his preliminary hearing to ensure there was a public record of what happened in the accident, Deputy DA Craig W. Hum says.

As part of the community service mandated by the agreement, Harran must develop and teach an organic or general chemistry course for South Central Scholars, a volunteer organization that helps prepare Los Angeles inner-city students for college and graduate school.

The DA’s office worked with the organization to put together a project that would be “enough of a drain on Harran’s time and energy to be a significant punishment while giving a huge benefit to the organization,” Hum says.

Harran must also complete 800 hours of community service in the UCLA Hospital System. This service cannot involve teaching and could include jobs such as delivering food to patients. “We wanted him to do something outside of his comfort zone,” Hum says.

Additionally, the agreement requires that Harran talk with UCLA chemistry and biology undergraduate students about laboratory safety. The agreement didn’t include other safety outreach because the DA’s office believed that the case itself brought sufficient attention to safety concerns, Hum says.

The DA’s office and the California Division of Occupational Safety & Health will monitor Harran’s compliance with the agreement. If they think that Harran isn’t meeting the requirements and a judge agrees, the case will proceed to trial. Judge George G. Lomeli stressed this part of the agreement in court: Harran “will be given one chance to get this right.”

At the end of the five-year term, if Harran meets his obligations, the DA’s office will move to dismiss all charges against him and will not pursue any further prosecution.

Overall, Hum says he understands the Sangji family’s position that the agreement is inadequate. But he also thinks that the settlement is likely close to any sentence that Harran might have received had he been convicted. “There was no way that any judge was going to punish him by sending him to jail,” Hum says.


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