Coroners react with concerns about Chief Medical Examiner’s administrative leave

WLBT News at 10 p.m. (11-17-20) - clipped version

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The backlog at the Medical Examiner’s office has some coroners still holding on to cases four, five, and six years old.

“I’ve got cases dating back to 2014 that have still not been solved, no death certificates amended, my cases are still incomplete on the files that I have. It’s just a backlog that’s unbelievable, it’s ridiculous,” said Winston County Coroner Scott Gregory.

Before State Medical Examiner Mark LeVaughn was put on administrative leave, the state had three medical examiners – two in Jackson, one on the coast. With LeVaughn out, coroners are concerned.

Lauderdale County Coroner Clayton Cobler says families deserve better than the wait, as do the coroners who serve as a buffer between them and the medical examiner’s office, where they say phone calls are rarely taken.

“I’ve got a grandmother calling me every week at least, wanting to know about the autopsy report for her grandchild, and it was in 2017,” said Cobler.

That child was around three years old.

There’s also another negative consequence of the backlog.

“I had a family that waited so long for an autopsy report that their life insurance policy was canceled because it took them so long to get a final copy of the autopsy report,” said Rankin County Coroner David Ruth, who said he’s currently waiting on 33 autopsy reports from the ME’s office.

Both Gregory and Cobler have seen that happen as well. Cobler has a family in danger of that now, he said.

There are also criminal cases to consider, and speedy trials for the accused. County coroners say it’s time for the state to own the problem.

“Because we don’t have medical examiners now to testify in court,” said Ruth.

And for Scott Gregory, who has been in office almost five terms, the realization that it’s not getting better has forced him to a decision. He says he won’t be seeking re-election.

“And I feel very very very bad for any coroner that takes over the position, because their hands are tied, but yes, their hands are full,” he said.

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