It's despicable for anyone to steal from the dead. It's even worse to think that the theft of more than $3,000 in cash and a watch from a dead man's body apparently occurred in the Marion County Coroner's Office.
The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy reported this week that an Indianapolis Police Department detective concluded earlier this year that the coroner's office, "at least on the administrative level, is incompetent and careless.''
The cash and watch apparently were lifted from the dead man, Charles R. Wright, in October of last year. The city settled with Wright's heir, paying out $3,640, in March. An IPD detective who investigated the theft determined that computer records had been altered in an attempt to conceal the crime.
In addition, more than 30 coroner office employees are accused of altering property receipts. And about 40 pieces of county equipment, worth at least $3,000, have been reported missing.
As David Cook, the chief public defender, noted, the string of accusations raises concerns about how evidence in criminal cases is handled and could lead attorneys to challenge convictions.
All of this outrageous behavior is alleged to have occurred under the watch of county Coroner Kenneth Ackles, a chiropractor elected to the post in 2004.
Note that the requirements for coroners in Indiana are ridiculously sparse: They must be at least 18 years old and live in the county they serve at least a year before running.
It's a woefully outdated system in an age when top-notch forensic work is an essential part of both the criminal justice system and identification of victims.
Hoosiers were shocked last spring by revelations that the Grant County coroner had mixed up the identities of two Taylor University students involved in a deadly traffic accident. A young woman thought to be dead was actually alive; a woman thought to be alive dead. The tragic error was discovered five weeks later after the severely injured woman managed to write her name.
The General Assembly next year needs to begin the lengthy process of amending the state Constitution -- not to raise the requirements for coroners but to abolish the elected post altogether. About two dozen states have established networks of trained regional medical examiners to handle coroners' duties. Indiana needs to adopt a similar system.
Professionalism and integrity are essential in handling the remains and possessions of the deceased. Sadly, the current system too often fails to meet those standards.
Conveniently, Sen. Pat Miller (R-Indianapolis) is chairing a legislative study committee that is reviewing Indiana's antiquated system for conducting death investigations. Sen. Miller should use her position to help the dead rather than the typical vitriol she directs against living people she morally disapproves of.