Sheriff Duke on Role of Medical Investigators

Concerns are being raised over how Wichita County runs the Medical Examiner's Office. Part of the issue involves the role law enforcement officers play.

David Fisher is an independent document consultant from Austin. He has played a role in investigations into medical examiner's offices throughout the state. Now, he's setting his sights on Wichita County.

Among Fisher's issues are the practice of shipping bodies out of county for autopsy, the ME, Dr. Gary Ozier, practicing privately in addition to serving as ME, and how the county pays Ozier. Fisher also has an issue with law enforcement officials acting as medical investigators.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states: "The powers granted and duties imposed....are independent of the powers and duties of a law enforcement agency investigating a death."

Sheriff David Duke said there is a separation. "None of them," said Duke, "are involved in homicide or death investigations that are conducted by the Sheriff's Office."  Duke also said the Medical Examiner chooses the medical investigators.

The ME can appoint deputies to assist with the running of the medical examiner's office. That needs to be done with the consent of county commissioners. Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom said he isn't sure if commissioners approve the appointments, but he said he'll look into it.

State code also says: "...the body shall not be disturbed or removed from the position in which it is found by any person without authorization from the medical examiner or authorized deputy." Fisher said, if county commissioners don't approve the appointments of medical investigators, they don't have the authority to remove the body.

Fisher also takes issue with the legality of Dr. Ozier's appointment. He said the county clerk must have a copy of his appointment and oath of office on file. County Clerk Lori Bohannon confirmed her office does not have them. Judge Gossom said not all appointments have such requirements.

Attorney General Barry Macha's office is conducting an inquiry into the matter. He said his office won't comment until that inquiry is over.

Fisher said the county should expect a slew of legal challenges if he's found right. But, Wichita County Public Defender James Rasmussen said, while he won't comment on this incident specifically, he feels fraud perpetrated by a ME would hold more weight for legal challenges than differing interpretations of code.