June 1, 2022
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner released the following statement on findings released today by UCLA’s BioCritical Studies Labs regarding in-custody deaths:
A report co-authored by the Carceral Ecologies Lab and BioCritical Studies Lab concerning in-custody deaths, and presented at a press conference today, contains several significant mischaracterizations and false statements. Most concerning are the allegations that the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner is involved in "covering up" how deaths may be occurring among the inmate population.
The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner (DMEC) appreciates the attention devoted to this important topic. Unfortunately, the report’s findings are inaccurate.
It opens by mischaracterizing the accessibility of autopsy reports. In Nov. 2020, Dr. Terence Keel's office requested 210 examination reports from the DMEC. None of the requests were on security hold. This request was fulfilled with the mailing of 210 autopsy reports to his office between January and April 2021. His office did not follow up nor advise our staff that reports were not received or were not being made available to him.
UPDATED 6/2/22: Additionally, although not mentioned by Dr. Keel, in early 2019, Dignity and Power Now requested autopsy reports on deaths in five detention facilities between 2009 and 2018. We fulfilled their request by providing 59 of 60 reports that met the criteria they provided. At that time only one case requested was on security hold. That hold was removed in August 2019.
The report also erroneously claims that in-custody reports were not released due to security holds. Reporters often inquire as to which cases are on security hold and a list is routinely available upon request. Currently, there are 96 security holds on DMEC cases of which none are in-custody deaths.
The most egregious implication made by the report is that DMEC doctors are willfully misclassifying deaths to an opinion that is not based on their specialized expertise in forensic pathology.
The DMEC is separate from any law enforcement agency in the county and exercises its own independent judgment when conducting death investigations and concluding the cause and manner of death without any influence from other agencies. The allegation that DMEC and its personnel are unduly influenced by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is false. The DMEC takes its independence seriously as demonstrated when the security hold was lifted on the Andres Guardado case in July 2020, despite the objections raised by the Sheriff’s Department.
During the press event, it was stated the department’s doctors refuse to make determinations on in-custody deaths by certifying an "undetermined" manner of death. However, according to the National Association of Medical Examiners, the definition for an "undetermined" manner of death is, "when the information pointing to one manner of death is no more compelling than one or more other competing manners of death when all available information is considered." While the department appreciates the report authors’ examination of the autopsy reports, there was no indication that they consulted with an outside forensic pathologist on their findings to confirm their opinions.
The department offers its most sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have died in-custody and we will continue to offer unbiased and independent determinations in the cause and manner of death of our decedents.
Public Information Officer
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