Over 7,000 people die in America every day, and when a death happens suddenly or under suspicious circumstances, the local county coroner is called in to investigate. We assume the investigation will be done thoroughly using sophisticated science, just like we see in television’s CSI, but the reality is very different. In a joint reporting effort, ProPublica, PBS FRONTLINE and NPR spent a year looking at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes. In 1,300 of those counties coroners are elected, many with no scientific or medical background. And the rate of autopsies across the nation has plummeted because of budget cuts to local governments. As a result, investigations are incomplete or botched, criminals go free and innocent people are incarcerated. We take a look inside the nation’s morgues with ProPublica’s A.C. Thompson and a private medical examiner who was an indirect victim of budget cuts in L.A. County.
A.C. Thompson, reporter at ProPublica
Craig Harvey, Chief Coroner Investigator and Chief of Operations, L.A. County Coroner’s office
Vidal Herrera, medical examiner, founder of 1-800-AUTOPSY; former Field Deputy Coroner Investigator with the Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Coroner