Dr. Shannon Cooper
Republican, Baton Rouge
67, East Baton Rouge Parish coroner.
Education: Tulane University School of Medicine, Loyola University College of Law.
Political Experience: East Baton Rouge Parish coroner.
Dr. William ‘Beau’ Clark
Republican, Baton Rouge
38, emergency medicine physician.
Education: LSU Medical School in New Orleans, Louisiana Tech University.
Political Experience: None.
Shannon Cooper promises to champion better mental health-care services, prepare for deadly disasters and help fight crime if re-elected coroner, while opponent Willam “Beau” Clark pledges to restore dignity to the dead, compassion for their families and service to law enforcement.
Republicans Cooper and Clark are in a runoff election to decide which will serve as East Baton Rouge Parish coroner for the next four years.
The two candidates finished ahead of Democrat Erick Teschke in the three-way Oct. 22 primary with Clark winning several hundred more votes than two-term incumbent Cooper.
The general election is Nov. 19. Early voting in the runoff election starts Saturday and goes through Nov. 12.
Cooper, a pathologist, lawyer and former U.S. Navy Medical Corps lieutenant commander, said he is the better candidate for the job because of his background and experience.
“I am a board-certified pathologist and am ready, willing and able when needed,” he said, noting that the Coroner’s Office employs a forensic pathologist to conduct the majority of its autopsies. “The legal training I have is valuable, especially when it comes to the mental health side of things.”
If re-elected, Cooper, 67, said he would be “very active” in championing the importance of good mental health services in the state.
He said his office also would continue to be heavily involved in disaster planning and would continue to work with other agencies in the parish to fight crime.
During his two terms as coroner, Cooper said, he implemented electronic records for all medical data and doubled self-generated revenues, which account for about $200,000 of the office’s $1.4 million annual budget.
“Our duties as coroner are pretty clearly delineated,” he said. “Other than continuing those duties, I think everything is pretty well covered.”
Clark, 38, said he thinks otherwise, and that if elected coroner, he would make several changes to the office.
Some of those changes include clearing a backlog of death certificates, mending a damaged relationship with law enforcement agencies and following laws pertaining to the chain of evidence, he said.
Such laws, along with ethical boundaries, have not been followed during Cooper’s tenure as coroner, Clark said.
The current administration, Clark said, should not have permitted one of its investigators to date a much younger, mentally ill woman nor should it have allowed that same investigator to take home medicine and driver’s licenses he confiscated from death scenes.
Raymond Levie, a 50-year-old investigator with the Coroner’s Office, was shot and killed in June at a Baton Rouge restaurant by the brother of his 21-year-old girlfriend.
At the time of Levie’s death, police were looking into why the investigator possessed prescription drug bottles and driver’s licenses that belonged to people whose deaths the Coroner’s Office had investigated.
“This behavior is unacceptable,” Clark said. “It demonstrates a tremendous misuse of the office.”
Cooper responded to criticism generated by the Levie case by saying the woman Levie was seeing was not mentally ill. She had been hospitalized for a couple of days and then released, the coroner said.
As for the medication and driver’s licenses found at Levie’s home, Cooper said he had no idea Levie was taking the items home until after the investigator was killed.
“He would have been fired had we known about it,” Cooper said.
Clark said he believes the Levie case has caused a divisive relationship between the Coroner’s Office and law enforcement authorities.
“I think it’s driven a huge wedge between the two,” he said. “How can the Coroner’s Office be part of a safety net when it’s part of the problem?”
Clark said he has a good relationship with law enforcement agencies, which would benefit the Coroner’s Office should he be elected to lead it.
Clark is an emergency room physician, medical director for the Louisiana State Police Special Weapons and Tactical Team and assistant medical director for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office SWAT team.
The Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237 as well as former coroner candidate Teschke have endorsed Clark.
“It is clearly time for a change,” Teschke said in a news release provided by Clark’s campaign. “(Shannon) Cooper has had eight years to make significant changes that would benefit the public and has failed to do so.”
Baker Police Chief Mike Knapps endorsed Cooper and said he has a good relationship with the coroner.
“Whenever we have a question, they are readily available,” Knapps said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party endorsed both Cooper and Clark.