Why does your office do its own investigation of an individual’s death?
There are a number of reasons. First, since we are the agency that must make a decision as to the cause and manner of death, it just seems to make sense. We certainly work in tandem with and parallel to other law enforcement agencies. We use the information they gather and they use the information we gather. It is a synergy that just plain works. But our medicolegal investigations may take a bit of a different tack or have a slightly different focus so we can arrive at the conclusions that we must to make our ultimate decisions.
In addition, if an autopsy is done the forensic pathologist needs answers to a number of questions as she proceeds through the autopsy. If we have done our own investigation we get answers to those questions and have them available as we assist with the autopsy. Such things as exactly how was the decedent lying when found, whether they were lying against something that might have left a certain mark, all can make a difference to know as the post-mortem progresses.
Another reason is that often two sets of eyes are better than one. We may pick up a detail that another investigator glossed over inadvertently. Or we might think to document something that the other investigators don’t. Recently, for example, among the agencies investigating a death, ours was the only one that took photos of the crash scene in daylight and those photos became an important element in subsequent legal proceedings.
My deputies are all trained in death investigation, evidence tech work, and all the skills needed to do a “class” investigation. The number of cases we investigate is certainly sufficient to keep up their proficiency as well. We are proud to use our skills and talents to do the job necessary to arrive at the cause and manner of death in our cases. And as I said we use the investigations of others as part of our “tool set” in these investigations. Death investigation is a cooperative effort, with each of us doing our part. As is often the case, here too the whole is often more than just the sum of the parts.