Sept. 8, 2012— -- A former Florida assistant medical examiner is facing up to five years in prison for storing more than 100 body parts, including brains and hearts, in a Pensacola storage container.
Michael Berkland was arrested Friday on one count of improper disposal/storage of hazardous waste and one count of public nuisance, according to the State's Attorney. When he was arrested, it was discovered that he was driving with a suspended license, so he was charged for that, too.
Berkland, 57, spent several hours in jail Friday before bonding out, ABC News affiliate WEAR-TV reported. For the improper storage charge, Berkland faces up to five years in prison. He could face up to 60 days in jail on the public nuisance charge.
Lungs, hearts, tissue samples and 10 brains were found Aug. 22 in a storage container at Uncle Bob's Storage that Berkland was renting, according to Pensacola police. There were body parts from more than 100 people found in the air conditioned unit.
They were stored in formaldehyde in plastic containers, specimen cups, trash bags and one part even in a 32-ounce Styrofoam cup from a convenience store, according to police. Some of the containers were cracked and leaking.
Police said they believe the remains are from autopsies Berkland did between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in Pensacola, Tallahassee, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City. Some of the containers had patient names and autopsy dates on them while others were blank.
After an autopsy, normal procedure is for for doctors to keep a tissue sample for a year in case further tests are needed, the medical examiner told WEAR-TV, adding that there is no reason to keep an entire organ.
Berkland, who is no longer licensed in Florida, rented the unit from August 2009 until Aug. 22, when the unit was auctioned off for $900 after Berkland was late on payment, police said. The manager of the storage unit, George Klages, told police that Berkland was usually late on payment but had previously always paid just before the unit was to be auctioned off.
The body parts were found in cardboard boxes when the purchaser was cleaning out the unit. Office furniture and other belongings were also found in the storage container.
Berkland worked for the Medical Examiner's Office between 1997 and May 2003 when he was fired for failing to complete autopsy reports in a timely manner, police said.
The Medical Examiner is working to contact family members of the people the organs belonged to, WEAR reported.