Louisiana's Need to retire outdated "Coroner Systm" with a "Medical Examiner" Systm
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Louisiana is one of only a handful of states that still use a "coroner" rather than a Medical Examiner. The problems facing death investigations in Louisiana stems from both our laws and those who are allowed to perform death investigations, our coroners. The current laws give wide discretion to these coroners and many have NO specialized medical or legal training. Coroner offices commonly lack ANY supervision, oversight, or regulation by any government authority or organization to ensure that these offices adhere to proper procedures.
When someone dies unexpectedly or in suspicious circumstances it is the job of a coroner or medical examiner to investigate what caused the death. We rely on these death investigators to provide an accurate and thorough autopsy report and a death certificate to settle estates, insurance claims and bring murderers to justice. The autopsy is the VERY cornerstone of death investigations.
The National Academy of Sciences took a look at the death investigation system in our country and described coroners as the weak link. A coroner is an ELECTED position, and is NOT required to have a medical background. Coroners are not required to perform autopsies on any deceased person if they choose not to. If the Coroner doesn't recognize a death as being suspicious and releases the body to the family for burial, the truth gets buried with it. This is why Louisiana needs to retire the outdated Coroner system and join the majority of the rest of the country and implement the Medical Examiner System.
In November 2015, my 45-year-old family member died a sudden, violent death. It happened about 1:30 in the morning, during an argument with a live-in girlfriend that he was in the process of leaving and was moving out the house they shared. My family member was shot in his chest with a PUMP shotgun. Police found the spent, ejected shell on the floor next to his body. Per police records, during the course of the argument, my family member locked himself in a storage room in order to get away from his girlfriend. She told police she got a screwdriver and pried open his door. The argument continued and shortly after, he was shot in the chest. This same version of events was also told by an additional family member that was in the house during the shooting. The police ruled his death a "suicide" and no investigation was conducted. The coroner did not perform any testing of ANY kind on my deceased family member. NO autopsy and NO toxicology was performed. I was outraged. I then obtained the police file and crime scene photos and was shocked and heartbroken at what I saw. The shock quickly turned to anger as I felt it was obvious that my family member's death was not a "suicide" as the police claimed it was. I needed answers so I hired a Certified Forensic Analyst and Crime Scene Investigator to review the entire police case file and photos of his death. The Forensic Analyst was shocked by what he saw and that the Coroner decided not to perform an autopsy and toxicology on my deceased family member. The opinion of the Forensic Analyst is that my family member could not have shot himself in the chest with a pump shotgun, then MANUALLY pumped the shotgun in order to eject the spent shell according to the claims made by police
Evidentiary findings by coroners or medical examiners are crucial to the outcome of both criminal and civil cases, mistakes and wrongdoings at the hands of death investigators can lead to great injustices. Whether a mistake leads to the wrongful conviction an innocent person, allows the guilty to go free, or allows an unjust award of damages, the ramifications of an ineptly governed death investigation system are felt throughout the entire justice system
If Louisiana had used the "Medical Examiner" system in November 2015, when my family member died, a proper death investigation would have taken place. By law, a complete autopsy would have been performed and my family would have truthful answers regarding the details surrounding his sudden, violent death. Unfortunately, since Louisiana still uses the outdated system where Coroners are not required to perform autopsies on anyone if they choose not to, and are elected regardless of their lack of training, Louisiana will continue to see a high rate of incompetent death investigations and a lack of oversight to hold anyone accountable or to prevent it in the future.
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