New York City’s Medical Examiners Office Screwed Up Royally And Now Everyone Knows It

April 12, 2015
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Employees at the city Medical Examiner’s Office “intentionally destroyed” documents to cover up the fact that it allowed the wrong corpse to be released for cremation and burial, a city probe finds.

Morgue workers failed to report a missing body for at least three months. When the stunning screw-up was finally discovered, no one took responsibility and all incriminating evidence was erased.

The city Department of Investigation confirmed whatThe Post reported last December: In February 2014, Manhattan morgue workers released the body of Rebecca Alper, 71, who committed suicide in September 2013, to a funeral home that came to get the body of Leah Lehrer, 95, a New York Life financial advisor who died on Jan. 25, 2014.

Alper was unwittingly cremated and buried instead of Lehrer.

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For nearly a year, the ME’s Office could not find Alper’s body. The city dug up 274 corpses in a potter’s field on Hart Island in a costly but futile effort to find her.

Meanwhile, Lehrer’s body slowly decomposed in a morgue cooler with no one asking why.

Investigators could find no records — either on paper or in the ME’s $10 million computer system — that tracked the handling and release of Alper’s body.

“DOI believes that these documents were intentionally destroyed to cover up the improper release of the wrong decedent,” the agency concludes in a report.

But it failed to learn who committed the crime.

To further hide those involved, someone printed out a barcode label identifying Alper’s body to replace an earlier one with handwritten notes, the probe found. The ME’s computer system, however, “was not programmed” to track who did it.

The DOI faults Robert Kearney, former director of operations, and Edward Bolling, a forensic mortuary technician, for waiting three months to report Alper missing. The DOI specifically doubts Bolling’s claim he “physically verified” Alper’s body in the morgue until March 2, 2014, because she was wrongly released on Feb. 11. Bolling denied knowing anything about her release and any part in a coverup.

The report cites “lax oversight,” but holds no top officials accountable.

“They kept the blame on people lower down on the totem pole, rather than looking at higher-ups who allowed this to occur,” one inside source said. “They didn’t go deep enough.”

The report found some morgue technicians “bypassed” the ME’s Case Management System, which critics call cumbersome and unreliable. After 9/11, India-based ICRA Sapphire got a series of no-bid contracts totaling $10.9 million to devise the system. Sapphire claims it owns the software and is the only vendor that can service it. In 2011, the ME’s Office hired Sapphire Vice President Naeem Ullah as its chief information officer.

“The system is atrocious,” an insider griped. “People hate it, people complain about it, but nothing is done.”

Staffers say they told the DOI that former chief of staff Barbara Butcher was caught taking a file on body mix-ups and computer malfunctions from an underling’s office. She abruptly retired last September, and the DOI does not mention the incident.

The DOI also did not address a series of misplaced bodies reported by The Post, including other wrong bodies cremated or sent to medical colleges and a mortuary school.

It recommends 17 reforms, including some to beef up the computer system, manning every morgue with a full-time security officer and creating an “alert” when a body remains in the morgue for more than 30 days.

The ME’s Office said it has tightened procedures and will hire new “quality control” staffers to oversee its body-release process.

[H/T: New York Post]

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