Saturday, May 19, 2012
Former Death Investigator Comments on the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office
Upon graduation with a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Management and Administration, then Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Fred Jordan, appointed me death investigator for Pottawatomie, Logan, Lincoln and Payne counties. Over the subsequent 8 years I investigated just short of 1,000 deaths.
During my tenure I participated in both the OK Bomb and May 3, 1999 tornado investigations. In 1999, I opened Private Autopsy Service, LLC which I continue to operate to date. I maintain a good professional relationship with OCME and think the talent and professionalism they demonstrate daily is second to none.
When the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) dropped the OCME’s accreditation they acknowledged the staff, both professional and technical, were doing a great job but that continuous underfunding by our legislature had taken a toll on facility, equipment and too few Doctors. Obliviously, this is the fault of our elected representatives not OCME. Our legislature feels if you want to change the office, let it fail. After failing you can rebuild it the way you want it. The charges filed against Rowland, firing of Dr. Trant and accusations’ against Slater all turned to dust, however the public now believed the lie framed by their elected representatives.
My investigation reveals this political agenda first appeared during the legislative tenure of Fred Morgan and subsequently, Glenn Coffee both of whom are attorneys, representing banker, insurance and finance clients and focused on TORT REFORM. The OCME has the sole responsibility in the State of Oklahoma for investigating sudden, violent, unexpected and suspicious deaths. Information gleaned from these medico legal investigations is frequently required in the form of evidence and expert testimony in CIVIL and criminal litigation.
When a death occurs on the job or appears work related, the result of the medico legal investigation is of direct benefit to the family in order that insurance claims may be appropriately settled. These investigations also help identify defective or unsafe consumer products, undiagnosed illness and injury among other things. Through intentional underfunding fewer investigations take place and focus is placed on criminal rather than civil cases.
EDMOND OUTLOOK published an article 6-4-10, “Chamber Top Priorities Passed by Oklahoma Legislature.”
“Moving the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office to Edmond and revision to workers compensation were the two top legislative priories for the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce for this legislative session. Both measures passed both the Senate and House and now await the Governor’s signature.
Revisions to worker compensation are estimated to save Oklahoma employers 60 million dollars. “These savings benefit Edmond small businesses helping to reduce expenses during a tight economy”, said Ken Moore, President and CEO of the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Moving the Medical Examiner’s office to Edmond helps to expand a core business in our community” said Moore.
‘We are grateful to Mayor Patrice Douglas and members of the Oklahoma Legislature for their leadership in making this import priority for Edmond a reality pending the governor signature.”
“We know this was a difficult session for the legislature. We salute senators Lamb and Jolly and Representatives Miller, Moore, McDaniel, Cooksey and Murphy for their leadership” concluded Moore.”
Originally, moving OCME to Edmond was to merge it with OSBI, hence the appointment of retired agent Tom Jordan to the position of administrator. Jordan functioned as Coffey’s lackey until the news of charges being filed against lawmakers regarding Leftwich’s bribery case emerged. At some point, UCO realized the opportunity to construct a 40+ million dollar structure on their campus, obtain financing and the taxpayers would pay for it. The lawmakers have constructed a scenario where they can attempt to convince the citizens they are attempting to “fix” the problems with a new building.
In considering the potential relocation of the State Medical Examiner’s office from its current location on the OU Medical campus in Oklahoma City, to Edmond OK, I can’t help but remember the aftermath of the OK Bomb. The medical campus was the perfect location for the onslaught of professional medical, dental and law enforcement assistance that was required during that terrible time in our state’s history. The dead were stored in refrigerated trailers next to the building as the tedious job of identification and evidence collection moved slowly forward.
As some of us are aware, our government does not believe this was a once in a life time event. We have constantly prepared for the reality that similar events will occur in our not too distant future. One only has to pass the OU Emergency Room entrance at NW 13th and Lincoln Blvd. to observe the newly erected decontamination building out front. You will also notice it has multiple doors to accommodate a large volume of traffic. The presents of the building, in front of our state’s only Level-One trauma facility is indicative of the potential future events being either biological or radiological in nature.
Unfortunately, targets of such events are usually the more populated areas. Why would you want to transport contaminated remains and evidence to another city during such a crisis? It is critical that isolation become the watch word in this situation. The authoritative publication, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” warns us that merging the Medical Examiner’s function with law enforcement is the path backward. Even the Oklahoma Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association has voted unanimously to oppose a merger of this type.
Moving this office to Edmond is the first step to the ultimate goal of the merger. However, whether a merger were to take place or not, the move is ludicrous at best. If you were to interview Dr. Eric Pfeifer today, he would tell you he needs equipment and additional Doctors NOW! He would tell you the building can wait. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s system was legislated into existence in 1961; however it was never funded until 1967 and has been habitually underfunded ever since.
The office has functioned well over the years in spite of funding until the population hence rising death rate, age of equipment and facility began to synergistically decay. If the legislature intended to correct the problem they would provide additional funding today but the legislature wants the focus on the building. Only an idiot would believe a 40million dollar building, on the UCO campus, in Edmond OK is going to solve the problems faced by OCME without additional funding.
The Oklahoma voters have to be made aware of the folly of this agenda. By standing moot we have joined in the debacle that is about to take place and are as responsible as the perpetrators. Please assist me in educating the public and stand in history as the opposing minority to this sham on the taxpayer’s pocketbook.