Suspended Delaware medical examiner out as state officials regroup

It took a new state law to engineer the ouster of Richard Callery, but now the Delaware medical examiner is out of a job.

An independent report offers a list of reforms for the office, and state officials say they’re already working to restore confidence in the state’s forensic science labs.

“If you go through it in some detail, there really isn’t anything there that’s is not fixable,” said Lewis Schiliro, Delaware’s secretary of Safety and Homeland Security.

Under a reshuffled job chart, the medical examiner’s office is now within his department.

Callery’s management and lax security procedures allowed critical drug-case evidence to be lost or compromised, said lawmakers and state officials.

“The idea now that we’ve suffered credibility lapses is something that we are going to have to work very, very hard to overcome,” Schiliro said.

In a dismissal letter, Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf and Schiliro say that Callery misused state resources to do outside work and neglected his duties to the state of Delaware. And investigation revealed that Callery moonlighted on other jobs, which sometimes presented a conflict of interest with his work for the state of Delaware.

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Callery Termination Letter (PDF)

Callery Termination Letter (Text)

State Sen. Greg Lavelle, a Republican from the 4th District, says Callery’s poor oversight has hurt Delaware’s ability to build solid criminal cases in some instances.

Lavelle said he wondered if those problems could have been caught sooner.

“I think that’s an additional failure, if the AG’s office and others knew that this office was not performing its responsibilities — rather than chatting amongst themselves for years about these failures and shortcomings, they should have brought that to our attention,” Lavelle said.

Countering that claim, a spokesman for the attorney general said the office has a years-long record of speaking out about issues in the medical examiner’s office.

“Any insinuation that we have been silent about problems with the medical examiner’s office is not supported by the facts,” Joe Rogalsky said by email. He also listed “publicly discussed” concerns dating back to 2007.

Callery was appointed to a 10-year term that offered him lots of autonomy — and made it complicated for Delaware to fire him.

“The independence that was designed to ensure independence of scientific results but really created an independence that resulted in a lack of oversight,” Schiliro said.

The medical examiner’s office was housed within the Department of Health and Social Services headed by Landgraf.

“She certainly has a role to play in that,” Lavelle said. “I’m a little more disappointed, quite frankly, in the criminal justice system side of state government — the attorney general’s office and others, who worked in this day to day, who again said, ‘We all knew there was a problem here,’ but they never communicated it to us.”

Landgraf said the office shuffle under way is the right remedy.

“The criminal justice system has the expertise in terms of chain of custody and security. With the transfer of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and through the oversight of the Commission of Forensic Science, we will know about problems sooner rather than later,” Landgraf said.

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