Special Advisory Council to County Office Clashes, Counsels

Special Advisory Council to County Office Clashes, Counsels
Anum Valliani
NewsWest 9
ECTOR COUNTY - It's no secret that the Ector County Medical Examiner's Office has been the subject of some controversy. In February, an Ector County Grand Jury urged the Commissioners Court to step in to make some changes after an autopsy was not performed on a baby. The court decided to put together a panel, who had their first meeting on Wednesday, to make the final call on what needs to be done.

According to Ector County Judge, Susan Redford, the Medical Examiner's Office is in compliance with the law but the law just isn't clear on some of the issues the county's facing. So eight city and county officials making up the office's advisory council are trying to fix that by redefining the roles of the ME's Office.

"The communication was a little more open than what I expected in an open meeting so I think it's off to a good start. I think a lot of people weren't shy about getting their opinions on the table," Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Anne Acreman, said.

It was a heated meeting, but they all agreed that there need to be more autopsies done. The problem is there's not a good system in place for who gets to make the final call on requesting the autopsies. Not having a forensic pathologist working in the county only makes it worse.

"What it does affect is if it's not operating right. We have miscarriages of justice as we've seen in the past," District Attorney, Bobby Bland, said.

Redford said she spent six months in 2013 trying to hire one but all five who interviewed declined. So now they're considering expanding the Chief Medical Examiner's position and budget so she can designate others to perform those tasks.  

A lot was on the table during the special advisory council's meeting but some information was missing; District Attorney Bobby Bland said some new anomalies had popped up that made him question the office's actions. But he could not talk about them because there are criminal cases pending.

"The District Attorney is obviously dealing with some things that he thinks is very sensitive to his ongoing investigations, and I can understand that, but it's a little bit like asking us to fix the problem when we don't have all the information to fix it and that's always difficult," Acreman said.

"It presents a difficult situation at best but we'll work through it and concentrate on operating procedures and tighten those up and try to fix those," Redford said.

Although she understands where Bland is coming from, there was a point in the meeting when she questioned whether there would be any cooperation from him, "Or are we going to keep beating our heads against the wall?" 

The panel also determined the parameters of their duties in serving as advisors to the Medical Examiner's Office. They had two questions: whether they could maintain an ME Office and follow the law, and if not, how would they proceed?

Odessa Police Chief, Timothy Burton, spearheaded the call to find a focus to the discussion. He pushed the DA to disclose whether there seemed to be habitual actions of wrongdoings that would hinder further lawful compliance in the future.

"So either we are in compliance or we are not. And whatever's not in compliance has to change," he said. "While there may have been concerns about past conduct, it was not, I don't believe a consensus, at the end of our meeting that anything was happening tomorrow that needs to be stopped."

The ME's office doesn't technically have to take the panel's counsel but they seem vested in making everyone's jobs easier. Redford said they have strong momentum so she expects the council will be meeting again in a couple of weeks to continue the conversation.