Candidates: Improve mental heath services

Two candidates are running against incumbent Shannon Cooper in the race for East Baton Rouge Parish coroner.

Democrat Eric Teschke, 61, and Republican William “Beau” Clark, 38, are vying for Cooper’s position in the Oct. 22 primary election.

Early voting in the election began Saturday and ends Oct. 15.

Teschke, who has run for coroner twice before, said he’s trying again because of his interest in forensic medicine and because “there are some issues going on in the current Coroner’s Office that are unacceptable.”

Teschke said the current administration 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 killed in June at a local 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.

“The whole office was apparently aware of it and decided not to do anything about it,” Teschke said. “To me, that’s unacceptable behavior in the Coroner’s Office.”

Cooper, 67, said the woman Levie was seeing was not mentally ill. She had been hospitalized for a couple of days and then released, he 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, who is taking his first stab at the Coroner’s Office position, said the office “has a tremendous duty to public safety.”

“The way they handle death investigations, the way they handle mental illness cases, all those things wrapped up together are very paramount to keeping our community safe,” he said.

If elected, Clark said, he would look into creating a regional forensic program “where we can consolidate efforts and utilize all our tools, all our expertise.”

He said he also would work toward providing better service to law enforcement, who are “sometimes having to wait four or five hours for the Coroner’s Office to show up.”

“If there’s a broken cog in the wheel, we certainly need to fix it,” he said.

Teschke said if he were elected he also would work at creating a regional forensic facility. He said he would work to foster better relationships not only with law enforcement but also with funeral home directors.

“Apparently, getting death certificates from the Coroner’s Office has been a challenge,” he said. “It’s been a contentious relationship, one of confrontation rather than cooperation.”

Cooper, who is serving his second, four-year term as coroner, said relationships with law enforcement and funeral directors are good, and that while the idea of a regional forensic facility is good, it has been done before and has not worked for one reason or another.

Cooper also said the idea Clark and Teschke have to accredit the office’s death investigators is good but expensive.

“Besides, they are trained on the same information as the accredited programs,” Cooper said.

All three candidates agreed that they would advocate for better mental health services for people in the parish.

“The mental health system in (Louisiana) is kind of broken,” Cooper said. “We can’t fix that, but if someone in the Legislature wanted to take that on, we certainly would participate in that.”

Clark said the office “can play a vital role in working with the mental health partners, the emergency room departments and the patients to ensure their safety.”

Teschke agreed and said mental health evaluations are a large and important part of the coroner’s job.