A cloud hangs over the new Division of Forensic Science

July 1, 2014

The speed at which the state established a new Division of Forensic Science is nothing short of breathtaking.

Problems in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner were revealed in court in January, when a packet opened during a trial was supposed to contain oxycodone pills but instead contained blood pressure medicine.

That case prompted a four-month investigation that found 51 pieces of evidence “potentially compromised.” Audits revealed thousands of pills were missing, along with more than 50 pounds of marijuana.

In just one 2012 case, investigators say, 502 oxycodone pills were missing; in another, nearly 20 pounds of marijuana disappeared. In a third 2012 case, more than 2 kilos of cocaine disappeared, and in still another case, 1,533 bags of heroin were gone.

Those are major problems for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner; it’s clear no one was properly supervising office functions or implementing basic security measures.

What’s far less clear is why the investigation has so far resulted in only minor charges against two suspended employees.

Officials say the employees and suspended Chief Medical Examiner Richard Callery are the subject of ongoing investigations, so a full description of their conduct cannot be offered.

Nevertheless, the Legislature by overwhelming votes decided the way to solve this problem is to create an entirely new Division of Forensic Science under the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

What happened to holding people responsible for the jobs they are paid for? Under the current system, it’s not easy to fire the chief medical examiner, but it’s also not impossible; the chief can be fired for cause.

The results of the investigation were issued June 19. Somehow, a bill to create an entirely new division was signed by the governor June 24. How could the public reasonably comment on this measure? The public wasn’t even aware of the extent of the problems until five days before the legislation was signed.

The establishment of this new office has been anything but transparent. That does not bode well for the transparency of the new office the governor has so precipitously created.

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.

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