County Discusses Issues Tied to Medical Examiner's Office

We have new information on the possible fate of the Medical Examiner's Office in Wichita County.  Several weeks ago Newschannel 6 told you a watchdog out of Austin was questioning the legality of the office.  One of David Fisher's complaints deals with members of the Sheriff's Office acting as Medical Investigators.  The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure does call for a separation of authority and duties between Medical Examiner's Offices and law enforcement. On Monday, County Commissioners discussed the issue.

After independent document consultant David Fisher made claims that Wichita County was running its medical examiner's office illegally, County Judge Woody Gossom and commissioners have been looking into the issue.

"We really think we need to review and maybe tune up what we're doing," Gossom said.

Monday, the court agenda called for commissioners to discuss and consider the possibility of closing the M.E.'s Office in a closed session with attorneys.  Judge Gossom says they feel confident that the criminal part of the issue -- having expert witnesses, for example -- all holds up, but there are some other areas that need tweaking.

"There's not something like 'Oh my goodness!  All these cases you did for the last 20 years are out the woods!'  No.  That's not where we are.  But do we have the procedures correct?  We feel like we need to clean that up," he said.

After meeting with attorneys, the commissioners decided they need more information to make a decision, so they'll reconvene Tuesday afternoon.

"'Fine-tune' is a fair word.  We're gonna add some players," Gossom said.

Ultimately, he feels the minor changes could mostly affect the role that Justices of the Peace play in the whole process.  They would likely continue to use the medical investigators already in place.

"The context of the operation's gonna stay the same.  We're just gonna add some more players to maybe make it more conventional," he said.

But even with possible changes on the way, Gossom says the county would still send bodies elsewhere in the state for autopsies.

Everybody watches "CSI;" we can't afford to set up that kind of a medical autopsy facility.  That's just not realistic," he said.

Gossom says most Texas counties use the Justice of the Peace system.  Wichita County is considering establishing the Office of Death Investigator, which would assist J.P.'s.

Commissioners will continue their discussion of the item at a special session Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Wichita County Courthouse.

Spencer Blake, Newschannel 6