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McHenry County Sheriff's Office discusses changes to coroner's office following evaluations

Prim, interim coroner discuss changes to address reported shortcomings

McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim speaks to volunteer academy graduates and their families July 7, 2014, at the McHenry County Sheriff's Office in Woodstock. In response to multiple deficiencies highlighted in two separate evaluations of the McHenry County Coroner's Office, Lt. John Miller – the interim coroner – said the sheriff's office has taken several steps to address high-liability issues in the department.
McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim speaks to volunteer academy graduates and their families July 7, 2014, at the McHenry County Sheriff's Office in Woodstock. In response to multiple deficiencies highlighted in two separate evaluations of the McHenry County Coroner's Office, Lt. John Miller – the interim coroner – said the sheriff's office has taken several steps to address high-liability issues in the department.

In response to multiple deficiencies highlighted in two separate evaluations of the McHenry County Coroner’s Office, Sheriff’s Lt. John Miller – the interim coroner – said the sheriff’s office has taken several steps to address high-liability issues in the department.

A third-party evaluation conducted by Dr. Dennis Kellar documented open boxes of loose and bottled prescription drugs totaling “thousands of pills” within arm’s reach inside of an evidence storage room. Kellar also observed a bag containing more than $20,000 sitting in an open and unsecured file cabinet.

The sheriff’s office conducted its own evaluation after former Coroner Anne Majewski submitted her resignation in February. Majewski was replaced by Sheriff Bill Prim’s then chief administrative officer, David Devane, who eventually was replaced by Miller.

Two audits were conducted by the sheriff’s office to establish the existence and whereabouts of equipment, evidence and other operating materials only to find that no existing operations manual or comprehensive index existed to check inventory, according to the sheriff’s office’s submitted report.

To address these deficiencies, Miller said the sheriff’s office implemented a comprehensive evidence control policy based on the best practices and standards of the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

The first part of this process was to secure the area by collecting keys from deputy coroners past and present, funeral home directors and other nonemployees of the county who may have had some form of access to the facility.

“We felt an inappropriate level of access to certain parts of facility, and we needed to tighten that up,” Miller said.

Under the revised evidence control policy, a property custodian is accountable for all property and evidence acquired by the coroner’s office and stored in the regulated areas.

These custodians must review all property and evidence entered into the department’s property database, maintain accurate records of all submitted evidence, securely store all submitted property and evidence, have evidentiary property processed within chain of custody requirements and dispose of property or evidence in accordance with legal standards.

A complete inventory of property and evidence is to be conducted whenever a new property custodian is designated. An annual inventory of property and property management records also must be conducted by a person designated by the coroner who is not routinely connected with the property control process.

Property custodians and the coroner are the only ones with access to a secured property room. Previously, all deputy coroners were able to access evidence storage areas.

In comparison, Prim said even he did not have access to drug storage or any other evidence storage at the sheriff’s office.

“We truly do minimize [access] to the lowest point that we can to meet that integrity,” Prim said.

About 100 years of records had sustained “damage” and were sitting in the conference room after Majewski planned on “digitizing” the records but never completed the task, according to Kellar’s report. It was unclear what records could now be accounted for, and Majewski had refused to release the records to the records department.

Prim said money had been allocated for a contractor to perform the digitization but rather than enacting a contract, the sheriff’s office decided to let the replacement coroner make the decision.

Miller said the records were inventoried, audited, labeled and returned to storage within county archives in a climate-controlled space.

“[Records] are right where they belong in county archives,” Miller said.

The report stated that tissue and body fluid evidence was stored in a 10-year-old residential refrigerator with broken racks, a broken door and a padlock latch on the side that didn’t have a lock.

Miller said that since the purchase is so expensive, a capital improvement request has been made for a new refrigerator.

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