Lawmakers briefed on latest Delaware medical examiner’s office investigation

 (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

The Delaware Public Defender’s office has filed motions to dismiss more than 100 drug cases due to the investigation of the Chief Medical Examiner’s office for missing or tampered with evidence.

At the time of the filings Wednesday, Delaware lawmakers were briefed on the latest investigation developments from the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security as well as the Department of Health and Social Services.

DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf said the state has hired an outside company, Andrews International, to conduct a complete investigation of the CME’s office which includes the DNA unit, the arson unit, toxicology unit and death investigation unit.

Andrews will provide the state with ways to enhance security as well as how to restructure the office to work more efficiently.

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Meanwhile, a multi-unit investigation of the controlled substance lab is being conducted by the Delaware State Police Evidence Detection Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, New Castle County Police Department, Wilmington Police Department, Newark Police Department and Dover Police Department.

The controlled substance lab has been closed since February after detectives discovered drug cases had been tampered with.

During a trial in Superior Court in January, a Delaware State Police detective attempted to present a sealed evidence envelope containing 67 blue OxyContin pills. The detective instead found 13 pink blood pressure pills.

Lewis Schiliro, secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security said the on-going investigation revealed approximately 63 defendants could be impacted.

“To date we have conducted over 40 interviews, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, and have forensically examined each piece of evidence that was contained in the medical examiner’s locker,” said Schiliro. “The investigation remains very much active.”

Delaware Chief Medical Examiner Richard Callery is currently suspended with pay. Other employees of the lab have been put on administrative duty.

“They have not been cleared as of yet, they are state employees and do indeed have certain rights,” explained Landgraf. “Just as importantly, they can be valuable employees to the state and ones that we will want to retain once cleared. I don’t like that we have chemists on staff who are indeed not testing drugs, but that is our current situation and it is certainly cheaper than losing the staff and having to hire and train new personnel. However we must be patient with this criminal investigation and identify who actually stole or diverted these drugs.”

Callery was appointed to the CME position in 1997. He was reappointed in 2007 and his current contract is not up until 2017.

Landgraf said under current statute, Callery can only be terminated for “rightful cause.”

“The last time an administration tried to remove a medical examiner in the mid-1990s, it resulted in years of litigation,” Landgraf said.

Delaware drug testing is currently being conducted out of state. Delaware lawmakers will get another update on the investigation next week.

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