Second employee suspended in medical examiner investigation

Security improvements needed, officials say
May 2, 2014
Rita Landgraf SOURCE DHSS

A second employee has been suspended as a result of an investigation into evidence tampering at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said Rita Landgraf, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

James Woodson, an evidence specialist, has been suspended with pay and a human resources investigation is underway, Landgraf said. His annual salary is $42,047. According to Woodson's Linked In account, he had worked in the Medical Examiner's Office for about three years. No further details are available, Landgraf said.

Landgraf and Lewis D. Schiliro, secretary of Delaware's Department of Safety and Homeland Security, briefed a public safety committee at Legislative Hall April 30 on an investigation that began in February after officials discovered tampering with drug evidence sent to the Controlled Substance Lab, which operates under the medical examiner's office.

Chief Medical Examiner Richard Callery has been suspended from his $198,000-a-year job and remains suspended with pay.

Landgraf said Callery was appointed to his position for 10-year terms in 1997 and 2007; his current term does not expire until 2017.

"At no point during this governor’s administration will his term expire," she said.

A state statute precludes her from terminating the chief medical examiner until the state can show it is firing him for cause, she said. Landgraf told legislators that the state statute should be changed so that she can discipline or terminate the chief medical examiner the same way she would discipline a department director.

“Unfortunatley, I think what we have seen in the last few months is that Delaware law sets up a Medical Examiner's Office that is built to be both professionally independent and operationally autonomous,” Landgraf said. “While the people who work there are professionally independent, the office as a whole is not as responsive as it could be to my department and to the criminal justice system.”

Landgraf said Callery has retained counsel; the state also has retained private counsel in the human resources investigation against Callery, said DHSS Director of Communications Jill Fredel.

Security issues

An audit of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has uncovered several security measures that need improvement, Landgraf said. Andrews International is auditing the office and its operations. Already, she said, the firm has found deficiencies in building security and security-related operational procedures and electronic systems. Landgraf told legislators updated motion detectors, glass breakage sensors, and upgrades to closed circuit TV and card access have been ordered and should be done by June 30.

Expanded background checks to include criminal, drug and financial records are also recommended, she said. Currently, employees are required only to give fingerprints, she said.

Schiliro said the structure of the Office of Chief Medical Examiner should be changed, which could include reorganizing the office under a different department or building a new forensic facility. Schiliro said staff from his office and the Attorney General's Office toured a $24 million facility in Maryland, which could be a model for Delaware.

"I don't think we can reopen under the current structure," Schiliro said.