Edmund Burke wrote, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
As we continue to shed light on how broken the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office is, and how this is devastating families across the State, we send out a plea to our State Legislature: do not sit by and do nothing.
Joe Turner said it best in Friday's news conference: "This isn't just us. This could be anybody. It could be your child, your loved one." He said that against the backdrop of families wronged by the Medical Examiner's Office who came to speak, from Guymon to Paul's Valley to Oklahoma City to McAlister, some of whom drove hundreds of miles to attend a Friday afternoon press conference and tell their horror stories.
People watching these stories who think this can't happen to them need to think again. Under Oklahoma law, if you or someone you love dies in a violent, unnatural or suspicious manner, or an unattended death, you have no choice but to accept whatever bizarre ruling the ME's Office makes about your loved one's death. This will affect everything from whether a murderer gets prosecuted to whether you get life insurance benefits. And until the legislature REFORMS the laws governing the ME's Office, there is no legal mechanism in place to hold the ME's Office accountable, or to present evidence contrary to a mistaken ruling and make them fix it.
I am livid at the ME's Office stock reply to each new breaking story, which is always something along the lines of: "We will be happy to look at any new evidence the families provide." This is a crock and a lie.
The family of Chanda Turner watched their daughter's body get dug up out of the ground for an autopsy that should have happened in the first place but the ME's Office refused. Ten years later, the family got an autopsy pursuant to Court Order, which was performed AT the ME's Office by their own CHIEF, and both doctors present at that autopsy ruled the death a homicide. Yet almost a year later, the death certificate remains unchanged. If THIS isn't sufficient "NEW EVIDENCE" to have Chanda's incorrect manner of death ruling changed from suicide to homicide, nothing is. And that's the bottom line: NOTHING IS.
Kathy Young learned this the hard way. When her son died from a lethal prescription medication, she was shocked to discover the ME's Office had the wrong medications listed, despite the body being transported with the very prescription bottles that listed exactly what he had taken. She fought their erroneous cause of death determination and was told that the toxicologist on the case disagreed with it, as did the majority of other pathologists in the ME's Office. But despite this, her son's death certificate remains unchanged. Despite her hiring a lawyer to have it corrected and presenting "new evidence" (if that's what you'd call making them look at the evidence already in their possession that they'd mislabeled). And yet, nothing changed.
Lee Ely's husband of 35 years, a gunsmith, died while working on a broken pistol. An "investigator" from the ME's Office arrived and spent approximately 30 minutes at the residence before telling Lee her husband committed suicide. The "investigator" refused to listen when Lee explained that the gun was broken and he had been trying to repair it. She refused to transport his body to the ME's Office for autopsy. In 30 minutes, a young, poorly trained "investigator" who had never met Truman Ely robbed him of his legacy and slandered his memory by labeling him a suicide. The family hired a lawyer and presented affidavit upon affidavit prepared by Truman's friends and family that he was not depressed, he was not mentally ill, he was happily living out his retirement with his wife and would have never killed himself. This was not sufficient "NEW EVIDENCE" to correct the "suicide" label, and Truman Ely's legacy remains tarnished by an ME's Office that WILL NOT correct mistakes, no matter what they say about being "happy" to consider "new evidence." It is a bald-faced lie they hide behind, knowing the current law provides these families no legal mechanism to go over their heads and get anything corrected.
These and many other stories of families who have tried to reason with the ME's Office and have mistakes corrected appear on http://www.justiceforthedead.com/. In each case, the ME's Office WILL NOT correct its mistakes. In the one and only case we are aware of, that of Sheila Deviney, the ME's Office belatedly changed a ruling of "accidental death" to "homicide," but only after the murder case grew cold and evidence was destroyed. Meaning Sheila Deviney's murderer got away with it due to the staggering incompetence and stubborness of our ME's Office. Now the ME's Office is threatening to destroy the tissue samples in this homicide case! This is the same office that lost its National Accreditation last year due to insufficiently trained pathologists and evidence cross-contamination, to name a few violations (the entire report stripping the Oklahoma State ME's Office of National Accreditation can be read on http://www.justiceforthedead.com/).
So now the ME's Office limps along, unaccredited, and handles the bodies of our deceased loved ones in atrocious conditions, including stacking bodies on the ground like they are nothing but so much trash.
The most important cases - those where human life has been lost - are all the ME's Office deals with. If it wasn't an important case, involving a death that needs questions answered, it wouldn't be there. Oklahoma citizens have no choice but to end up there if the death falls under the statutory guidelines. And this MUST be changed.
We will no longer stand for Oklahoma's most important cases being funneled to our most broken Agency.
To the Oklahoma State Legislature: you created this monster. Only you can fix it. We have nearly 5,000 signatures on our PETITION demanding REFORM of the ME's Office. The language we want written into the new law is on the Petition. We want the ME's Office to be independent. We want them to receive sufficient funding to handle our deceased loved ones with the respect the dead deserve. We want the bodies looked at by qualified pathologists, and a Chief appointed who does not have a sketchy past. We want the Board Members appointed by someone to whom they will be held accountable for their decisions. We want a way to appeal cause/manner of death determinations with credible evidence. The current system provides Oklahoma citizens NONE of this, and we have had enough. This has gone on long enough.
We are tired of you sitting by and doing nothing.
FIX THIS NOW. PLEASE. SIGN THE CHANDA TURNER REFORM BILL INTO LAW and give these families, and all Oklahomans whose loved ones end up in the ME's Office, justice for their dead.
Copies of the Petition can be printed off at http://www.justiceforthedead.com/.