Grand Jury report: Sheriff-Coroner is a bad move

FRESNO, California

Right now, the board is looking to put the sheriff's department in charge of the coroner. But the top concern is a lack of independent oversight, according to the report.

The report also says the move would detract from the office's medical purpose. The sheriff says that won't happen. But the current coroner is very concerned he says for more than just his job.

The office of Fresno County Coroner is just one vote away from being eliminated. If the Board of Supervisors gets its way Sheriff Margaret Mims would take over. But the grand jury says that's a bad idea and the offices should not consolidate.

Instead it recommends the board move to an appointed position, a medical examiner's office.

Coroner Dr. David Hadden is an elected official, who says his medically trained professionals should not work for law enforcement.

"Why would he want to have his supervisor be a sheriff's sergeant," he questioned. "They come from different worlds. They have different attitudes, based on their training. We need both, but they shouldn't be co-mingled."

Action News talked with Sheriff Mims, who says there's no reason anyone should worry about conflicts, as long as protective policies are established.

"Any of the times that I speak with my fellow sheriffs throughout the state of California that issue can easily be addressed through organizational structure," Mims said.

The report also points out the Fresno County Sheriff, in the late 1970's, called for his office to break away from also being coroner due to a significant conflict of interest when reviewing officer-involved cases.

Supervisor Henry Perea wants to see nothing changed. "When you have an operation that is running efficiently… when you want to protect that conflict of interest issue so that you do have an independent coroner reviewing cases that are sensitive in this community," Perea said. "I think it needs to stay exactly where it's at."

The board learned this week the county will not save money if the sheriff takes over. Dr. Hadden believes the move is a personal attack. Supervisor Debbie Poochigian told us earlier in the week that's not the case. She declined to comment on the grand jury report.

The board meets in the first week of December to make its final vote on the fate of the coroner.

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