It looks like there's some more controversy brewing for the Marion County Coroner's office. The Office is looking to hire Dr. Joye Carter as its Chief pathologist. However, a check of public records raises some questions about Carter's qualifications. Carter was the Harris County Chief Medical Examiner in Houston, TX. In 2001, the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners fined Carter and she nearly lost her license for allowing an unlicensed pathologist to perform autopsies. In
addition, in 1998 her office was accused of tampering with evidence in the connection of the trial of murder of a 12-year old girl. That same year, workers in her office admitted angry employees stacked bodies on top of each other in the morgue in violation office policy. And in 2000, a federal jury awarded an employee $250,000 for wrongful discharge for exposing illegal activity in the medial examiners office. The Marion County Coroner did not return calls seeking an interview concerning Dr. Carter.
In addition to being fined for using unlicensed pathologists in the Harris County medical examiner's offices and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in whistle-blower lawsuits filed by former employees, Carter has been criticized for her handling of some high-profile cases, including a quick ruling of death by suicide of former Enron executive Clifford Baxter, who had just agreed to testify on behalf of federal investigators against Enron executives. Carter also handled autopsies on the deaths of Andrea Yates' five children. She took 23 days to determine that Andrea Yates had killed her five children by drowning them.
Aside from her troubles as Harris County's chief medical examiner, Carter left behind a lot of controvsery in her prior job as chief medical examiner for the District of Columbia. As the Washington Post reported at the time of her departure:
In May, unclaimed bodies at the D.C. morgue were piled like cordwood because the crematorium had broken down.
But the backlog of bodies was only part of the story. The morgue was filthy, the ventilation was inadequate, and city officials acknowledged that more than 200 autopsies and 400 toxicology analyses had not been completed because of money, equipment and personnel problems. The morgue's problems, in turn, were hampering police investigations.
Joye M. Carter, the city's chief medical examiner, resigned to take a job in Houston, and city officials had difficulty replacing her and filling other pathologist positions.
An important side-note to Carter's potential hiring are reports she is being offered the position as a contractor and not an employee of the coroner's office as Ackles was insisting of Radentz and his staff at Forensic Pathology Associates. The reason for this is pretty simple. Because the coroner is not a medical doctor, he cannot legally employ Carter or any other licensed physician to perform work as a licensed medical provider.
As controversial as the Carter hiring may prove to be for Ackles, he has more questions to answer about his office's ties to Indiana Autopsy, a local company which performs private autopsy services. Sources tell AI that Billie Elkins, a former pathology assistant for IUPUI and a principal of Indiana Autopsy, approached a principal of Forensic Pathology Associates earlier this year about a potential partnership between the two companies for the work being contracted to Forensic Pathology Associates. After the contractor turned down the offer, Ackles notified the company in June that its contract with the office was being terminated.
According to the source, Indiana Autopsy was advertising recently on a job site for the American Academy of Forensic Science for two forensic pathology positions in a major metropolitan area. The job posting listed the contact person as Joseph Anderson, a board-certified pathologist listed as being associated with Indiana Autopsy according to the company's website. The job posting, which was subsequently removed, may be related to the openings being created by the termination of Forensic Pathology Associates contract.
AI has also learned that Ackles office distributes brochures for Indiana Autopsy through the Marion County Coroner's office, and that deputy coroners working in the office have included in their reports the fact that they have made referrals to responsible family members of deceased persons whose death the office investigated for the benefit of Indiana Autopsy. It is unclear why these improper referrals are being made for the benefit of Indiana Autopsy.
A source tells AI that a person working for Ackles has made less-than-subtle suggestions to forensic pathologists to remove valuable body and tissue parts during the course of conducting an autopsy, which could later be used for medical research. Pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly, pay substantial sums of money to obtain human body and tissue parts for research; however, consent in the form of a pre-death declaration by the deceased person or from the responsible family member is required before any parts may be harvested. The source tells AI that the forensic pathologists working for Pathology Associates ignored the suggestions from Ackles staff.
The potential hiring of Carter has Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's office on edge because of her past controversies. His office should also be concerned about the inappropriate relationship between the coroner's office and Indiana Autopsy. These are indeed matters which warrant much closer examination. Unfortunately, it appears that things are going to get much worse in the coroner's office before they get better.
UPDATE: Fox 59 News at 10:00 reported on Ackles' efforts to hire Dr. Joye Carter tonight and her controversial past. Former Marion Co. Coroner Dr. John McGoff (R) told Fox 59 News that Carter had applied for employment here in Marion Co. during his tenure, but she was turned down because of her past problems as Harris County's medical examiner.
REVISED UPDATE: WISH-TV reports tonight that the Indiana Medical Licensing Board will hear Dr. Joye Carter's application for a medical license next week. Because of her past troubles in Texas, the Board is asking her to appear in person to answer questions. The report emphasized that she is currently licensed to practice in Texas.
And now the Star has a story about Dr. Carter's pending appointment. Brendan O'Shaughnessy and Jon Murray report that Carter could begin work as soon as the end of next week if it approves her license at its December 7 meeting. They note that Coroner Kenneth Ackles wrote a letter in support of her license. "His letter said Carter’s skills and experience would help the office when a private firm’s contract to conduct autopsies for the county ends Dec. 19."