LA County coroner resigns amid body backlog

Posted at 7:13 AM, Mar 15, 2016

Los Angeles County's coroner is resigning after only 2 1/2 years, saying understaffing left him unable to do the job amid complaints of stacked body and testing backlogs.

Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark Fajardo will return to his former job as chief forensic pathologist in nearby Riverside County.

"Ultimately, I wasn't supplied the resources I need to perform my job duties," Fajardo told the Los Angeles Times. "Every year we made requests for positions that needed to be filled ... Each year we were not supplied the personnel we need."

Fajardo submitted his resignation to county supervisors Friday. It will take effect on April 15.

"The board is committed to ensuring that the coroner has and continues to have the resources necessary to fulfill its obligation to the residents of Los Angeles County," Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said in a statement.

The coroner's office is one of the busiest in the nation, handling about 8,500 physical examinations a year as part of more than 20,000 investigations to determine the cause of death. But there have been complaints about the speed of handling cases, which include everything from natural deaths to drug overdoses and shootings.

Herneisha Thomas said she had to wait weeks before the office released the body of her brother, Deontra Gant, 35, who was shot to death in June. The family had to wait to set the funeral and by that time, there was some decomposition of the body.

"He had an open casket, but he was darker than what he should have been because he sat there for so long," she told the Times.

About 180 bodies are stacked in the morgue.

"It's nuts," Fajardo told the Los Angeles Daily News.

The office has a backlog of several hundred toxicology tests, which determine such things as whether drugs or alcohol were in a body. The tests are taking up to six months to complete. The coroner cannot close a case while the tests are pending.

Coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter told the Times that the delay is caused by a shortage of criminalists. Some workers have left for better-paying jobs elsewhere, he said.

The department has about 200 employees, down from 220 employees about a year ago, Winter told the Daily News.

The department requested a $42.7million budget this fiscal year. The recommended budget was $32.4?million, the Daily News said.

In Riverside County, Fajardo will take over from Jennifer Park, who replaced him when he joined Los Angeles County in August 2013.

Park resigned as chief forensic pathologist in January "to seek a career opportunity elsewhere," Riverside County Chief Deputy John Anderson wrote in an email to the Riverside Press-Enterprise (