We are encouraged by the news that East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Shannon Cooper is implementing a new policy aimed at better tracking of drugs collected from death scenes by his investigators.
The policy was implemented in the past month — and more than six months after Baton Rouge police found such drugs in the home of Coroner’s Office employee Raymond Levie, who was shot to death June 24 at a local restaurant.
Investigators found a number of medications in Levie’s home that had belonged to people whose deaths the Coroner’s Office had investigated. Investigators also found a number of driver’s licenses in Levie’s home that had belonged to people whose deaths had been investigated by the Coroner’s Office.
Cooper said he has directed that drugs taken from death scenes should be brought to the Coroner’s Office and stored in a locked room until an investigation is closed. Cooper said he has directed that the drugs then should be destroyed as medical waste.
Driver’s licenses taken from death scenes should be returned to the state Office of Motor Vehicles, said Don Moreau, chief of operations for the Coroner’s Office.
One of Levie’s duties was to gather such licenses and take them to the Office of Motor Vehicles.
We must wonder, though, why the new policy implemented by Cooper is not a written one.
Word-of-mouth policies lead to confusion. Putting policies in writing helps prevent ambiguity and removes the “I didn’t know” excuse when policies are violated.
In addition to setting such policies in writing, the policies also should include a statement of penalty or penalties for violations.
At the time of Levie’s death, authorities were investigating whether Levie was breaking any laws by possessing the drugs police found at his home.
The discovery at Levie’s home of items taken from death-scene investigations is odd, to say the least.
The storage of items from a death scene at the home of an investigator would seem to violate basic principles of forensic science.
The public needs assurance that best practices are in place to ensure a clear and uncontaminated chain of custody for evidence when authorities investigate a death.
When the public lacks such confidence, evidence used in these investigations can reasonably be called into question. Inevitably, the cause of justice suffers.
That’s why we hope that the Coroner’s Office places its policies regarding such matters in writing.