Report shows lax oversight in Delaware medical examiner’s office

 DSHS Secretary Lewis Schiliro, DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf and State Prosecutor Kathleen Jennings brief lawmakers on the Medical Examiner's office investigation (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

DSHS Secretary Lewis Schiliro, DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf and State Prosecutor Kathleen Jennings brief lawmakers on the Medical Examiner's office investigation (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

Two state agencies are asking lawmakers to create a new division to house the state medical examiner’s office.

As the state continues an extensive investigation of evidence tampering at the office, a new agency called the Division of Forensic Science was proposed by the Delaware Dept. of Safety and Homeland Security and the Dept. of Health and Social Services.

The two groups outlined plans for the new agency before lawmakers on Wednesday. 

“The division would be responsible for all the powers, duties and functions vested in the medical examiner and [the] duties of the medical examiner and forensic science laboratory as set forth in the title,” explained DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf.

The lab currently falls under DHSS, but DSHS Secretary Lewis Schiliro said it makes more sense to have it operate under his department.

“The operation of a crime lab for state public safety would not be that far out of our sweet spot,” Schiliro said. “We’re the ones that collect evidence; we have expertise in how to collect and process.”

They are also asking for the establishment of the Forensic Science Commission, which Landgraf said would “provide oversight and support to the newly-created division.”

In order to create the agency, lawmakers would have to change the current statute. 

Landgraf said they would like to see legislation approved in this session to expedite the reopening of the lab once the investigation is complete. 

Currently, drug cases are being processed out of state.

Drug tampering investigation continues

State Prosecutor Kathleen Jennings also updated lawmakers on the latest details of the evidence-tampering investigation within the office’s controlled-substance lab.

Jennings said at least 75 individuals were notified that evidence in their cases may have been tampered with. The missing drugs include Oxycontin, cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

“That’s because there’s a discrepancy in the weight of their evidence, or their evidence no longer exists,” she explained.

Additionally, the Delaware Office of the Public Defender has filed nearly 500 motions seeking to reopen or overturn drug convictions.

Jennings said that the lab lacked proper security. In addition, she noted that Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Callery was rarely present to supervise the staff.

“The chief medical examiner was absent for large periods of time, consulting and testifying in other states,” Jennings said.

When he was present, Jennings reported that Callery was often working on his private consulting business, using state resources and staff. 

Callery is under investigation for the possible misuse of state resources. Callery, whose salary is close to $200,000 a year, is currently suspended with pay.

“We’re only able to terminate for cause,” Landgraf explained. “He has due-process rights himself.”

While Jennings said that the Dept. of Justice will issue a full report in June, lawmakers are unsettled at the fact that he can’t be fired.

“Heads gotta roll,” said Rep. Mike Mulrooney, D-Pennwood. “I’m just an old electrician and I know if I messed up on a job this bad, I’d be gone. I don’t see why any government position should be any different.”

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