CUYAHOGA COUNTY, OH – If the legal advisor to Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner / Coroner Dr. Thomas Gilson doesn’t know it’s his duty and not the duty of municipal law enforcement officers to investigate the cause of all violent deaths; that lack of knowledge might be the reason Prosecuting Attorney Michael O’Malley looks uninformed with his criticism of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. The same 1953 law the late attorney, physician and coroner Dr. Samuel Gerber worked to get enacted into law, and used to get a public statement from Bay Village Dr. Sam Sheppard about the murder of his wife, Marilyn, during his 1954 “inquest” is still on the books.
In an interview with a cleveland.com writer Adam Ferrise, who did not appear to possess knowledge of the coroner or prosecutor’s statutory dutiese, the one-term county prosecutor criticized what he described as an “understaffed” Cleveland police homicide unit with 13 detectives. Council appropriated money for 23 homicide detectives, according to Ferrise who cited an unnamed “police research group” that allegedly claimed detectives shouldn’t handle more than six investigations a year. The unidentified research group didn’t place any “unsolved homicide” responsibility on council’s decision to eliminate the third shift in detective bureaus in all six districts during the 1980’s; or to reduce the number of police districts from six to five.
Cleveland homicide detectives handling about 114 homicides a year have a less than 50 percent solve rate. Ferrise’s unidentified “police research group” suggested that homicide detectives should handle “closer to four” investigations … annually.
What Ferrise’s “interview” with the legal advisor to Gilson and every other official of Cuyahoga county government failed to identify was the Ohio law giving the coroner (medical examiner) near exclusive duties and “authority” to supervise and direct the investigations of suspicious and violent deaths. The duties of Ohio “coroners” are found in Chapter 313 of Ohio’s Revised Code.
The section of R.C. 313 O’Malley should have viewed as instructive in his discussion with Ferrise was R.C. 313.17 giving only the coroner, not the police or sheriff, the power to subpoena and jail anyone with knowledge of a homicide who doesn’t reduce what they know about the death into writing. The coroner doesn’t have the same “no one’s coming forward” excuse the homicide detectives O’Malley supports are giving the public.
“The coroner or deputy coroner may issue subpoenas for such witnesses as are necessary, administer to such witnesses the usual oath, and proceed to inquire how the deceased came to his death, whether by violence to self or from any other persons, by whom, whether as principals or accessories before or after the fact, and all circumstances relating thereto. The testimony of such witnesses shall be reduced to writing and subscribed to by them, and with the findings and recognizances mentioned in this section, shall be kept on file in the coroner’s office, unless the county fails to provide such an office, in which event all such records, findings and recognizances shall be kept on file in the office of the clerk of the court of common pleas. The coroner may cause such witnesses to enter into recognizance, in such sum as is proper, for their appearance to give testimony concerning the matter. He may require any such witnesses to give security for their attendance, and, if any of them fails to comply with his requirements he shall commit such person to the county jail until discharged by due course of law. In case of the failure of any person to comply with such subpoena, or on the refusal of a witness to testify to any matter regarding which he may lawfully be interrogated, the probate judge, or a judge of the court of common pleas, on application of the coroner, shall compel obedience to such subpoena by attachment proceedings as for contempt. A report shall be made from the personal observation by the coroner or his deputy of the corpse, from the statements of relatives or other persons having any knowledge of the facts, and from such other sources of information as are available, or from the autopsy.”
Since his 2014 election and defeat of Tim McGinty as Cuyahoga County’s prosecuting attorney, O’Malley has not released any public statements that he’s advised coroner or “medical examiner” Gilson to issue subpoenas to individuals with knowledge of Cleveland’s unsolved homicides.
Instead of advising Gilson to investigate the homicide he thinks Jackson’s grandson has knowledge of and is not telling, O’Malley appears to be misdirecting the media away from Gilson’s dereliction in not investigating the county’s violent deaths.
Unlike Balraj and Gerber, Gilson is not an elected coroner or medical examiner even though it’s the only way the official appears to be authorized to hold office pursuant to R.C. 313.01.
Gilson was a Connecticut resident who failed to meet the minimal qualification of being licensed as an Ohio physician two years prior to his appointment by ex-county executive Ed Fitzgerald in 2011. Ohio’s state medical board showed he hadn’t been licensed to practice medicine here for 19 years. None of Gilson’s first four years of coroner’s duties would be lawful This “qualification” is spelled out in R.C. 313.02.(A)(1) and (2).
(1) Except as provided in division (A)(2) of this section, no person shall be eligible to the office of coroner except a physician who has been licensed to practice as a physician in this state for a period of at least two years immediately preceding election or appointment as a coroner, and who is in good standing in the person’s profession .
(2) No person shall be eligible to the office of coroner of a charter county except a physician who is licensed to practice as a physician in this state and who is in good standing in the person’s profession.
A frustrated Ward 2 Councilman Kevin Bishop recently coordinated with other council members to ask the public through the media for help in solving Cleveland’s violent deaths. Despite the money Bishop and the council budgeted for extra detectives, it’s Gilson and not council’s duty to appoint and compensate homicide investigators pursuant to R.C. 313.05(2).
“A coroner may appoint, as an investigator, a deputy sheriff within the county or a law enforcement officer of a political subdivision located within the county. The deputy sheriff or law enforcement officer appointed as an investigator may receive compensation for services performed as an investigator in addition to any other compensation allowed by law.”
Control over violent death investigations appear to have been given to the coroner from the moment of death by the state’s lawmakers in their now 66-year-old law. R.C. 313 was enacted on October 1, 1953 and remains inherently intact despite its “weaking” subsequent amendments by later state lawmakers.
Pursuant to R.C. 313.11(A) it is a 4th degree felony for any “person” without an order from the coroner or his deputies and investigators to “disturb” a body of a homicide victim. They’re supposed to leave the dead person as they find them.
“No person, without an order from the coroner, any deputy coroner, or an investigator or other person designated by the coroner as having authority to issue an order under this section, shall purposely remove or disturb the body of any person who has died in the manner described in section 313.12 of the Revised Code, or purposely and without such an order disturb the clothing or any article upon or near such a body or any of the possessions that the coroner has a duty to store under section 313.14 of the Revised Code.”
More specifically, Ohio’s lawmakers instructed every “first responder” to a violent death location to not only leave the body alone, but to contact the coroner. These duties are found in R.C. 313.12 and are among those former “elected” cororner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj was “advised” to perform by O’Malley’s former boss, ex-prosecuting attorney William D. Mason. The heading of R.C. 313.12(A) is “to coroner of violent, suspicious, unusual or sudden death.
“When any peron dies as a result of criminal or other violent means, by casualty, by suicide, or in any suspicious or unusual manner, when any person, including a child under two years of age, dies suddenly when in apparent good health, or when any person with a developmental disability dies regardless of the circumstances, the physician called in attendance, or any member of an ambulance service, emergency squad, or law enforcement agency who obtains knowledge thereof arising from the person’s duties, shall immediately notify the office of the coroner of the known facts concerning the time, place, manner, and circumstances of the death, and any other information that is required pursuant to sections 313.01 to 313.22 of the Revised Code. In such cases, if a request is made for cremation, the funeral director called in attendance shall immediately notify the coroner.
Former prosecuting attorney Mason’s instructions to Balraj came in 2004 after she admitted her “coroner’s verdicts” were fraudulent to this writer when he published and edited Cleveland Challenger. This writer and journalist Richard Donald Jones reviewed Balraj’s administrative practices and sought copies of the “full and independent” investigations she’d conducted with “appointed” investigators. She didn’t possess any.
Balraj admitted that police had never notified her of any violent deaths after she replaced Gerber and she had employed or appointed no investigators. She was also charging members of the public $5 a page for autopsy reports instead of the less than 5 cents a page authorized by R.C. 149.43 at the time.
Mason “advised” Balraj that it was her duty to perform those spelled out in R.C. 313 as written. Balraj appointed her driver and ex-Cleveland beat cop George Geleteka as one of her investigators. She also appointed retired East Cleveland detective Charles Teel and retired Lakewood captain Alan Clark. First responders across the county were notified of their duties to leave bodies alone and contact the coroner.
Learning the duties of the coroner / medical examiner and advising Gilson to perform them appears to be the first place O’Malley should look, outside his own negligence for not knowing them, if he’s serious about solving Cleveland’s backlog of unsolved murders. He should also review the effect of Gilson’s unlawful appointment and verdicts between 2011 and 2014. Ohio law didn’t authorize Gilson to enter the coroner’s office and perform the duties because of his out-of-state residency and lack of minimal qualifications.