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11:35 am
Mon July 20, 2009

NEW REPORT: Critical of ME's Office

Oklahoma City, OK – Finding "either willful blindness or gross incompetence" on behalf of administrators, the state's Multicounty Grand Jury today issued an interim report stemming from its investigation into the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

The report says employees have been "victimized psychologically, emotionally and sexually," and accused previous chief medical examiners of "turning a blind eye" to the problems.

"The grand jurors heard testimony of the sexual battery and harassment of agency employees," Edmondson said. "With no one in management to turn to for assistance, these employees must have felt completely helpless and trapped in an impossible situation."

The report also cited problems with the agency's handling of evidence and personal property.

"The grand jury found valuables were not secured, items which may have evidentiary value were not treated as evidence, instances where no precautions were taken to prevent cross contamination of evidence and situations where evidence was stored next to trash receptacles," Edmondson said. "As a career prosecutor, this type of lax attention to the handling and processing of evidence raises serious concerns and likely has put criminal cases at risk."

Grand jurors were highly critical of the agency's former chief investigator and previous chief medical examiners.

Citing an "abuse of power," by the former chief investigator, the report says the "extent to which one employee was given unbridled authority is astounding to the grand jury." The report goes on to say the employee exercised "what can only be described as absolute power, control and authority over the entire office."

The report says previous chief medical examiners were aware of the former chief investigator's behavior and the delegation of such a large degree of authority to that employee was "no less than derelict."

The report also criticized the agency for its lack of internal policies, procedures and protocols.

Because of the lack of written policies and procedures, "there is inconsistency in how routine practices are carried out by staff," the report says. Witnesses testifying before the grand jury quoted the former chief investigator as saying, "if a policy is in writing then we would have to follow it."

The report concludes with numerous recommendations to improve the agency's operation and performance, including combining the agency with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Other recommendations include changing the agency's managerial structure, improving policies and procedures, creating an evidence-handling protocol, increasing security and implementing employee training.

The agency is "falling short of its true calling" and "has failed its mission to carry out its duties professionally," the report says.

"The operations of the Medical Examiner Office have an immeasurable impact on bringing closure to those experiencing unexpected and inexplicable loss, the adjudication of court proceedings and the overall protection of public health and safety," the grand jurors wrote. "Mal administration has ultimately led to various existing and potential problems identified by the grand jury."

In addition to the problems listed in the Multicounty Grand Jury's report, the agency recently lost its accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners, the attorney general said.

The Multicounty Grand Jury also today issued two sealed indictments. One indictment, to be unsealed in Oklahoma County District Court, names one person on one count. The second, to be unsealed in Tulsa County District Court, names one person on four counts.

Dates for unsealing the indictments have not been set.