Ector County Medical Examiner's Office Safe For Now

Ector County Medical Examiner's Office Safe For Now

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

ECTOR COUNTY -  The Ector County Medical Examiner's Office is in the hot seat. County commissioners took a hard look at the office's operations on a grand jury's recommendation.  That's after the jury called two investigators "reckless" for not performing an autopsy on a baby that tested positive for cocaine.

In a special meeting held on Tuesday, the court looked at two choices to get rid of the office or make changes in their operation.  

Medical examiners Shirley Standefer and Sondra Woolf are still safe, along with the entire Medical Examiner's Office. The Commissioners felt there wasn't enough information to disband the department. 

The court had requested that anyone who wanted to address them had to sign up and keep comments under three minutes. Multiple agencies including the Sheriff's Office, OPD and Justice of the Peace all took to the podium for the examiners in their public addresses to the court. They said abolishing the office would be counterproductive, decrease the professionalism Ector County had been working towards and would hurt the citizens.  

"I think it's overkill to look at disbanding an office when you don't like what's going on inside," Justice of the Peace, Christopher Clark, said. "If there are problems in a business, you don't just close a business unless the circumstances are absolutely extreme. You take steps internally, to internally fix what needs to be fixed. I believe that's the route this court should take, to look at every possible solution to fix the Medical Examiner's Office as opposed to just completely disbanding it."
All but one were speaking favorably of the Medical Examiner's Office, but still, most said there were problems that need to be fixed. Additionally, Shirley Standefer told Commissioners they felt they had been harassed and bullied by the District Attorney's office.  

Ector County District Attorney, Bobby Bland, responded by saying it wasn't personal, there just would never be a time that he'd want less evidence as a prosecutor and that's what happened in the Talisha Redic case. Still, he said he was pleased the court has started making moves to tackle the issue.  

Despite the differences in opinion, pretty much everyone was in a better mood after the meeting, since they decided not to make any hasty decisions on Tuesday.  

Instead, they want to look at ways to make the Medical Examiner's Officer better.

"I'm just elated that we'll still be able to do what we do for the county and the families in the county," Standefer said. 

Ector County Sheriff, Mark Donaldson, said that since he started working in Ector County in 1977, he'd seen the alternative- the Justice of the Peace System- and many forms of the Medical Examiner's Office.

"And without going into specifics, this system, and the people that have been there that are there now, have been the best for us that we've worked with since that time," Donaldson said. 

If the Medical Examiner's Office were abolished, the duties would fall under the Justice of the Peace and they say, they don't want that burden.

"Naturally, I don't think there's any person who wants to assume the duty of being called in the middle of the night to declare someone or a group of people dead. So yeah, when we have an office that does that and that relieves us of that burden, that's something we'd like to keep in place," Clark said.

"Everybody seems to agree that there are some areas we need to improve. But the general consensus was to, let's look to see if we can't improve the office, and tighten up the areas of concern, rather than just throw the whole thing out and go back to the Justice of the Peace system," Ector County Judge, Susan Redford, said.

So, the judge will be putting together a panel to tackle the issue mainly by re-examining job descriptions.

"Of course that will include the district attorney because I think he's a key player in this. We need to take his concerns seriously and see what we can do to fix those," Redford said.

The Sheriff, Chief of Police, and Medical Examiner, will also be on the panel along with others who still need to be identified. The group would then make a report to the court with suggestions to improve the office.  

Bland said he appreciates the commissioners taking this seriously but he hopes it doesn't get swept under the rug with the stall.  

"Once the grand jury gets involved, we know it's something that needs to be taken very seriously, so I want to move the process along as quickly as possible.  Of course we also don't want to react, we want to act so we want to make sure that we take the right positive steps and implement good change rather than acting for the sake of acting," Redford said.  

"I'm fine with them taking time and considering it, looking at it before they decide to do something drastic like abolish an agency. They have to see where that puts us. I'm absolutely fine with that but they should consider that as an option as well. It shouldn't be swept under the rug just because some people want a certain system," Bland said.  

Bland also said there were some credibility issues that the court had not addressed.

As for Standefer, she just wants for the office's relationship with the District Attorney to improve.  

"Hopefully if we can work together closer, there won't be any more complaints. I know what we do for the citizens of Ector County but it's always surprising to have such backing from the community," she said. 

There's not a set timeline for when this panel will be finalized or meet but Redford said it will happen as soon as possible.