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Candidates clash over credentials

Candidates in the race for Kane County coroner are accusing each other of falsely claiming credentials that qualify them for the position.

Democrat Tao Martinez owns a company that cleans up death scenes, and Republican Rob Russell, a DuPage County Sheriff’s deputy, is a corrections officer. They are vying for the coroner post in the Nov. 6 general election.

Martinez challenged Russell’s claim that he has lead homicide and death investigation duties, as stated on his candidate handouts.

“I am certified as a lead homicide investigator,” Russell said. “I never said I was a homicide detective. As a patrol officer from 2001 to 2011, all through those 10 years, I had several deaths that I was the first one on the scene. I never said I was a homicide detective. Certified lead homicide investigator is a class I took as a police officer.”

Records show Russell completed 40 hours of training in September and received certification by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.

Martinez countered when patrol officers encounter deaths, they secure the scene for detectives.

“He’s a jailer,” Martinez said of Russell. “I know what a lead homicide investigator does, and they don’t work in corrections.”

Russell said the investigation begins when the first officer is on the scene.

“The initial officer on scene begins the initial investigation,” Russell said. “I know because I’ve done it. He would not know that because he’s never done it. … I went to [the Hurricane Katrina scene] to support the law enforcement efforts in Louisiana. You don’t do that as a ‘jailer.’ ”

Russell said he was on the eligibility lists for sergeant in the jail and sergeant on patrol, and he chose the jail for the rank and increased pay. Records from the Oct. 10, 2010, DuPage County Sheriff’s Merit Commission show Russell as fifth on the corrections list and seventh on the patrol list.

“If I wanted to be a sergeant in patrol, I’d still be waiting,” Russell said.

In turn, Russell challenged Martinez’s list of certificates and training – most of them from this year – as a death cleanup vendor at coroners’ and medical examiners’ conferences and then attending the trainings.

“These are designed as continuing education credits for coroners, deputy coroners or law enforcement,” Russell said. “He does not have medical legal death experience. He comes to clean the scene up. By the time he is there, it’s done. I’m there after the incident occurs. I’m there with the body and with the family, and [the one] who starts the investigation.”

Russell said he took the homicide training recently because his department wants its workforce to be well trained, and jail deaths also need to be investigated.

Martinez provided copies of certifications for various trainings, such as from the Wisconsin coroner and Medical Examiner’s Association in April, the Indiana State Coroners Association in June, Missouri Coroners’ and Medical Examiners’ Association in March and the Kentucky Coroner’s conference in April.

Eddie Wilson, executive director of the Missouri association, said it was the first time a vendor took the 20 hours of training.

“I thought it was odd,” Wilson said. “He was welcome to come. The more the merrier.”

Alan Klimek, of the Wisconsin group, said in an email that it was not unusual for vendors to occasionally register for training.

“We have had all types of professions attend, but generally we like to see those that are affiliated to death investigation in some way,” Klimek said via email. “We knew that Tao had an interest in becoming a coroner and didn’t look at his participation as anything other than preparation for a potential job.”

Martinez also provided a copy of a certificate from the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association for Medicolegal Death Investigation in August 2010. However, Martinez was not allowed to attend this year, said Lynn Reed, training director for the Illinois association.

“He was told no in 2012 because he was a candidate and not a coroner,” Reed said. “It makes it awkward for the organization ... to have it look like we are endorsing a candidate. We have to stay neutral.”

Reed said Martinez was the only vendor to ask to come to the class. Martinez said he went to the conferences and classes as an attendee, separately from his company’s presence as a vendor.

Russell objected to Martinez as a civilian taking classes intended for coroner or law-enforcement professionals.

“The rest of the qualifications for coroner will be determined by the voters,” Russell said. “He can parade around with certificates, [but] they are not going to vote for somebody who is not qualified.”

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