The following is a transcript of comments by Walla Walla County Sheriff Mike Humphreys, city of Walla Walla Police Chief

Chuck Fulton and city of Walla Walla Fire Chief Terry Thomas to Walla Walla County commissioners Gregg Loney, Greg Tompkins and Perry Dozier during commissioners’ June 2, 2010 meeting. Sheriff Humphreys was the first to speak. After introducing himself and others, he said: “I guess the gist of the comments today is our relationship and working relationship with the Walla Walla County Coroner. There have been several issues that have come up in the past few years. It mainly deals with assisting us in the proper manner of doing our investigation and working in a partnership.” Humphreys said during his law enforcement career he has worked with “at least” four previous coroners “and over those years I don’t recall the problems that we’ve had with the coroner assisting us in our investigation with any of those folks.” Saying he wasn’t going to go into specifics, Humphreys said “just a couple of instances where we’ve had investigations where there possibly could have been a crime involved, to where we weren’t getting coroner reports or toxicology reports in a timely manner to conclude our investigation, that’s been a big issue. Our coroner is the only one in the state of Washington that submits blood samples for toxicology to the Washington state crime lab that just uses a medical examiner number and not including a name, so we can’t retain that information from the unless it comes from the coroner himself. That’s led to us having to get our own blood and urine samples for toxicology. So we’re sending in duplicate samples from Walla Walla County.” Another instance was where law enforcement officers “have the need to attend autopsies. We have not been informed in any manner whatsoever in several instances where we could attend autopsies and gather our evidence that’s needed in a criminal investigation. I do believe on several occasions that this was done purposely. One time I recall we had to go to the pathologist that performed the autopsy to get a report due to the fact the coroner refused to send a report. “Excuse me, refused to sent it or just failed to send it?” asked Tompkins. “He failed to send it, after numerous requests. So we went to the person who performed the autopsy to get the report and that isn’t the right way to do things. We all have a job to do. We all need to work together to obtain the best results for the citizens.” Humphreys final comments were that he and others have spoken with Brown about the need to work together “and doing the necessary things to complete our investigations, but it doesn’t seem to be working.” Fulton spoke next. “I would like to echo a lot of things that Mike has just reported on. I’ve been in law enforcement for 40-plus years and I’ve never, never seen a situation such as this with the relationship with the coroner in that office.” Fulton said his office has been forced into filing public records requests “in order to get the information we need to file our cases. We’ve also found that the very things Mike has been talking about have been the things we’ve encountered with Mr. Brown. We even have had some issues where some of the paperwork that has come back to us has been altered and we know that because we’ve gotten the originals from another source. “It’s forced us to file an actual complaint with the prosecutor’s office and like I say, in (my) 40-plus years, we’ve never had to do something like this.” “I truly understand the role and responsibilities of the coroner. It’s a very important component of our system and it’s a matter of us needing to work together and that’s not here. I find that the competency level of the coroner’s office is very lacking and something needs to be changed.” Thomas spoke next.

“Holistically and generally, in dealing with the coroner’s office, my concern simply is that we’re a team. Law enforcement, fire, the coroner’s office, the team approach in doing what’s best for the community. There’s a concern on my part in regard to the coroner’s office in regard to how (carefully) we have to manage our tasks out in the field in regard to whether or not someone is looking over our shoulder and something is going to come back to possibly challenge the care that we give to individuals out on the scene, usually an emergency scene. “To that extent and without going into a great deal of detail, I have instructed my staff that they are not to converse with the coroner without the approval of myself or my deputy chief, just to make sure that we know going in exactly what the expectations are on behalf of the coroner and what our exposure and liability is in sharing the information. “That’s not a comfortable way to do our job out in the field and it’s certainly not something that I want my people to have to struggle with when they’re performing their services for the community. “So from my perspective, it’s simply been a matter of trust in whether or not we’re going to be singled out in regard to whatever particular service or procedure we provide for our community. That’s not a fair situation to put our people in, either law enforcement or EMS, and I appreciate the opportunity to share that with you.” Loney thanked the three, then said “I should note, just for the record, we’ve had a number of concerns and complaints over the years, from the Port...we’ve had several from St. Mary’s hospital, we’ve had funeral homes, dispatch, there was an issue with dispatch procedure and protocol. Citizens who are not getting death certificates on time, personal belongings, (toxicology?)tox reports getting somewhere without proper i.d. so they were mixed...it’s a level of frustration for us as well. “So I appreciate each and every one of you coming forward and sharing your concerns. As we go forward, it’s an awkward position because we’re an elected body and we have budgetary oversight and that’s about it. And I think (county Auditor) Karen Martin is here, the professional services, which is primarily autopsies, have just continued to rise. And the things that we have seen, it seems to be a power or control issue with Mr. Brown, in having deaths go through him that he doesn’t have to sign off on, hospice cases, etc. “While all those issues are a concern (and people who are grieving don’t need to deal with those type of issues at the time of their loss) to be able to do your job as part of a team, it is very frustrating from our position.”

(End of comments by Humphreys, Fulton and Thomas.)

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