Coroners Accused of Stealing from the Dead & More

Accreditation is another issue. Out of over 100 medical examiners offices in the U.S., only 54 are accredited and, hence, inspected by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), the accrediting organization founded in 1966 to improve the quality of death investigation.

"We would like to see more offices across the country become accredited under our organization," said NAME President Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen.

Accrediting medical examiners offices is important, Jentzen said, "because it documents to their jurisdiction and to the local citizens that they are performing at the highest level and that they do have policies and procedures."

Offices are evaluated for the procedures it has in place, structural facilities, security, and personnel, among other accreditation requirements, which many offices across the country can not currently meet, he said.

But Baden cautioned that accreditation isn't a solution.

"They need some kind of overarching ability to reach into all the states and counties to improve death investigation and to regionalize it," said Baden. "Each jurisdiction has its own peculiar history and needs."

NAME is currently working with Seattle officials to review the city's investigating procedures.

A pathologist there was conducting an autopsy in May when he discovered that the number of MS Contin and Percocet pills that were in containers belonging to the deceased were markedly lower than had been counted two days earlier during inventory, said James Apa, a spokesman for the health department. Thomas Chapin allegedly came forward and confessed after the investigation was launched.

"After working there for approximately six months, Chapin began to take prescription medication from death investigation scenes, the autopsy office area and the evidence lockers," Detective S. Smith said in one court document. "He used the medication for his own personal use and quickly became addicted."

ABC News was unable to reach Chapin for comment.

In response to the alleged theft, the office has instituted new protocol in which medications are re-inventoried before being returned to police to ensure that the amount leaving is the same that came in.

"This pointed to an area where we needed to improve our security and we did immediately," said Apa. He stressed that the missing drugs have not effected any determinations of causes of death or criminal investigations because in all cases but one, Chapin allegedly left some drugs in the vials that pathologists were still able to examine.

A spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office said Chapin has been charged in drug court to allow him to enter a one-year drug treatment program since "he has no criminal history and appears to have an addiction problem." If he doesn't complete the program, he could face six months in jail. Chapin resigned from his job last week and is due in court Aug. 18 for arraignment.

Megan Chuchmach is a 2008 Carnegie Fellow at ABC News.

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