Delaware Medical Examiner fired after mishandled evidence

 (photo courtesy of DHSS)

(photo courtesy of DHSS)

Delaware’s Medical Examiner is out of a job after allegations of misconduct in the ME’s office.

Dr. Richard Callery was removed from his position as Chief Medical Examiner on July 4. He was suspended from office in February after allegations of misconduct in the office were first reported. Callery was accused of taking paid side jobs while ignoring problems within the office. 

“We had a medical examiner that simply wasn’t around,” said Lewis Schiliro, secretary of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security last month. “He was off conducting separate business while he was chief medical examiner and I think that created a huge management gap.”

The scandal has jeopardized hundreds of drug cases within the state. An audit discovered at least 51 pieces of potentially compromised evidence including marijuana, Oxycontin, heroin and cocaine.

‘Inadequate supervision and management’

Callery’s removal comes after the release of an independent report from a group of forensic science experts.

The report from Andrews International examined ways to reform the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Its findings include: 

A confusing chain of custody documentation which was performed differently in each unit
Inadequate facility security and evidence transfer procedures which jeopardized the integrity of evidence
The need for a more robust accreditation process

“The Andrews Report is a blueprint for what went wrong, and what needs to be done to restore confidence in the state’s forensic science labs,” said Rita Landgraf, secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. “The OCME has talented and competent professionals, but the direct day-to-day management oversight and support of those professionals was unhealthy and promoted a culture of lax protocols and practices which contributed to the problems.”

A criminal investigation into Callery’s conduct is underway while the state searches for his replacement.

Employees arrested

In May, two employees in the medical examiner’s office were arrested for misconduct. 

38-year-old James Woodson was indicted on one count each of trafficking cocaine, theft of a controlled substance, official misconduct and tampering with evidence.

Woodson, a death investigator at the facility, is accused of removing cocaine from an evidence bag at the Controlled Substances Lab. He was also charged for violating the terms of use governing his access to the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System database in April.

The second employee, 54-year-old Farnam Daneshgar, a chemist at the lab, was indicted on two counts of falsifying business records. 

According to the Attorney General’s office, Daneshgar failed to produce reports that documented discrepancies with drug evidence he reviewed in two specific cases. He was also charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia after police issued a search warrant of his home.

Forensic overhaul 

Earlier this year, state lawmakers gave quick approval to a measure (SB 241) overhauling the medical examiner’s office. The duties of the office have been rolled into a new state Division of Forensic Science. While the ME’s office had been under the auspices of Department of Health and Social Services, the new division has been created within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“SB 241 is the first step towards fixing what was broken and reestablishing public trust in controlled substance testing,” said Schiliro.

The decision to move the forensic work from the health department to public safety was opposed by national medical examiners groups.

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