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Medical Examiner’s Office Publishes Essential Investigation Book

by Christopher Harris , Communications Specialist

goup of people smilingDid you know medicolegal death investigators can play an important role in establishing the cause and manner of death of a deceased person? While the death investigators aren’t the ones conducting autopsies, they do act as the first set of eyes and ears for forensic pathologists. They’re answering phone calls from hospitals and law enforcement – gathering vital information surrounding the circumstances of the death. They’re researching and contacting potential next of kin family members. Furthermore, they’re traveling to death scenes – homicides, suicides, accidents, suspicious deaths, etc.

In 2013, Cuyahoga County Manager of Investigation and Morgue Operations  Joe Stopak and former Chief Investigator Daniel Morgan (now currently working in Washington D. C. at OCME) began working on a Medicolegal Death Investigation Field Guide, which would be used as a handbook for the office’s annual Medicolegal Death Investigation Course. The course teaches law enforcement and medical personnel about death investigation techniques, scene safety, red flags, procedures, and much more.

blue book cover with a car in backgroundAs our investigation course begin to grow and expand from once a year, to now 5 times a year – The demand for the in-house book began to grow as well. That’s when Stopak formed a Medicolegal Death Investigation Education Committee, whose purpose was to help advance the visibility and implement procedures to improve the course. The committee is made up of death investigators, photographers, communications specialists, and medical secretaries.

One of the first goals of the committee was to publish the book and give our audience the option of having the book electronically (e-book). Many first responders are likely to have a cell phone with them, and if they see something new or suspicious at a scene, they can pull the book up immediately on their phone. After a few minor changes to the book, we are happy to announce the release Medicolegal Death Investigation: A Step-By-Step Field Guide.

“Death investigation is a complex process involving coordination with many parties. Medicolegal Death Investigation summarizes the pertinent elements of scene investigation from medical and legal perspectives,” said Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas P. Gilson.

The book covers a wide variety of scene types, scene procedures, and scene safety considerations. Additionally, each scene type contains a list of Indicators, Key Questions, and Red Flags.

Indicators – Signs (physical findings) or reasons (circumstances or history) to suspect a specific scene type.

Key Questions – Questions intended to elicit positive or negative answers to pertinent aspects or the cause, manner, and circumstances of death.

Red Flags – Signs that an alternative cause or manner of death should be considered.

With over 100 years of experience between them, our American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) investigate over 1300 scenes annually in Cuyahoga County. This book has not only been essential to our local responders, but also others across the country.

“A must have for all those who respond to death scenes…This guide helps responders ask not only the questions, but the right questions,” said Fulton County (GA) Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jan M. Gorniak.