Deputy Coroner (Coroner's Investigators) usually start their investigation with the dead body and work backwards to ascertain how and why death occurred. The forensic staff (Coroner Technicians and Forensic Pathologists) start with the body and work forward to retrieve any information from the body that will aid in establishing the cause and mode of death, as well as identification of the remains.
The forensic center is where each death under the Coroner's jurisdiction gets a thorough examination. The receiving process includes undressing, weighing, obtaining an ID photograph, obtaining fingerprints and documenting property. The Coroner Technicians obtain X-rays of all homicide deaths, infant/child deaths, burn deaths, decomposed remains and others as needed. The X-rays are processed in-house and are available minutes later for examination by the pathologist (looking for projectiles or fractures, etc.).
Depending on the circumstances of the death, the deceased is then placed in one of three refrigeration units: the main cooler (41 degrees F.), the decomposed body freezer (30 degrees F.), or the contagious cooler (41 degrees F.). A decomposed body is one that had been dead for a period of time and/or exposed to the elements and deep refrigeration will retard the decomposition process.
If the death is unexpected or due to violence or if the attending physician cannot provide a reasonable cause of death, either a full autopsy or an external examination is performed by a Forensic Pathologist. A full autopsy examines the body and all internal organs. An external examination reviews the medical history of the decedent and examines the external body to rule out injury or unusual circumstances to provide a cause of death.
Homicide autopsies are done in a special room, which is designed to limit access and protect any evidence recovered. A viewing area is provided for law enforcement in attendance. The Forensic Pathologist will open the body, remove and weigh the organs, and complete the examination. Each portion of the autopsy is photographed and findings are documented for later use in court. Each injury is photographed, measured, probed and numbered. Sometimes, with multiple injuries, the autopsy can last several hours or days. Normally, a complete autopsy will take between 45 minutes and 2 hours to complete, depending on the circumstances.
The Coroner Technicians recover samples of body fluids (blood, urine, etc.) for possible toxicological testing and prepare specimen slides for microscopic examination by the pathologists. Following the autopsy, the Coroner Technician sutures the body closed and prepares it for release to whichever mortuary the family has selected.
The Forensic Pathologistsdo not take their position lightly. They know that their reports can, in many cases, provide the evidence to lock up a suspect or set one free. They know that information they find during an autopsy may be of value to family members faced with the same disease. Also, insurance companies and attorneys may question their findings. They are aware that their thorough and open-minded examination will serve the Sheriff-Coroner and the communities in which they live.
Forensic Archaeology / Anthropology / Odontology
Forensic anthropology, archaeology and forensic odontology are three areas of specialization in the Coroner's Bureau that aid in the identification of decedents. Forensic archaeology employs archaeological techniques to recover remains and aid in the scene interpretation. Typically scenes requiring this type of recovery involve buried, scattered, burnt, or fragmented remains. Forensic anthropology relies on skeletal biology to determine biological origin (human versus non-human), sex, race, stature, and time since death on unidentified remains. Anthropology can aid in the identification of trauma and toolmark analysis on identified remains as well. Odontologists review and compare dental charts and records against recovered jaws with teeth attached to aid in identification, as needed.
In addition to recovery and analysis, this office participates in national and international lectures, training and workshops on identification and recovery for local, state and federal agencies. We participate in identification, training, and recovery in mass disasters and war crime investigations for county, state, federal governments and the United Nations.
Coroner Incident Response Team (CIRT)
The Coroner Incident Response Team (CIRT) is a specialized unit within the Coroner's Bureau trained to handle incidents which require additional technical expertise. CIRT team members are Deputy Coroners who request appointment to the team and are selected by bureau administration to receive specialized training in order to handle death investigations which would require equipment or expertise that extends beyond what is encountered on a day-to-day basis.
The CIRT team responds to buried body cases, cases that require a body to be extricated from a confined space or up high angles, in remote areas requiring technical rope recovery skills, cases where the body has been exposed to hazardous materials, and mass fatality incidents. Membership on the CIRT team requires a high level of dedication. In addition to performing normal duties as a Deputy Coroner, team members are required to attend rigorous training classes and exercises.