Death investigations are conducted by both the police and medical examiners or coroners. The law in each jurisdiction determines whether or not the area utilizes a coroner or medical examiner.
A coroner is an elected official and may or may not be a medical doctor. (Many California sheriffs also serve as coroner).
A medical examiner is a medical doctor who has been hired/appointed by the city/county/state/federal government to conduct autopsies and investigate the cause of suspicious deaths. Elected coroners who are not doctors must hire a pathologist to conduct autopsies.
The police are in charge of all murder scenes, but medical examiners and coroners are in charge of the body. Medical examiners and coroners do not interrogate and/or arrest suspects. Detectives do not poke and prod the insides of human bodies.
Bodies are placed inside body bags and are generally delivered to the morgue in specially equipped vehicles (pictured above). However, in some areas bodies are transported by EMS, funeral homes, or body transport services.
Upon arrival at the morgue, the body (on a gurney) is rolled onto scales where it’s weighed.
After weighing, the body is placed inside a cold room until autopsy. Black or dark gray, leak-resistant body bags are used pre-autopsy.
The paper bag resting on the body of the murder victim at the top of the above photo contains the victim’s personal belongings. Notice there are no individual drawers for bodies.
Cold rooms also store amputated body parts. The gray trays on the right contain severed limbs. White, paper-like body bags, like the one lying on the gurney in the rear of the cold room above, are used post-autopsy for bodies waiting to be transported to funeral homes.
Our tour of the morgue continues with a peek into the autopsy room/suite, where we’ll examine some of the tools of the trade. If your stomach holds up we’ll even have a glimpse of the star of the show, a murder victim.
The photograph above is of an autopsy station. Think of it as a pathologist’s workshop. To begin the autopsy, a body is placed on a gurney and is then positioned against the center, sink area of the station (feet-first in this morgue).
WARNING – GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW!
Pathologists in this particular morgue select instruments from a rolling cart placed at each workstation.
Tools of the autopsy trade.
Some M.E.’s prefer to use a bone saw used for cutting through the rib cage beneath the “Y” incision. It’s also used for cutting through the skull.
Scales for weighing internal organs.
EXTREMELY GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW!
Last Chance To Exit!!
Bodies are positioned on a gurney prior to autopsy. Then they’re wheeled to the autopsy room/suite.
Notice the lividity on the back and sides (lividity is the gravity-induced purplish staining of the tissue at the lowest points of the body). The lividity presenting on the above victim indicates he was lying on his back after his heart stopped beating, and the body remained in that position until lividity became fixed (12 hours, or so). Had this victim been found on his stomach with the lividity fixed on his back, well, that would be a sign that the body had been moved sometime after death.
Next we see the upper chest and neck area of the murder victim. The reddish-brown line circling the neck is a ligature mark caused by strangling with an electrical extension cord.
Baseball-style stitches are used post autopsy to close the “Y” incision.
Once the internal exam of the head is complete, the scalp (behind the head, from ear to ear) is stitched back into place.
Post-autopsy suturing of the scalp.
Finally, the body is cleaned and returned to the cold room to await pickup by a funeral home.
The end. Really, it is…
Superhuman strength, aggression, violence, paranoia, yelling, bizarre behavior, and hyperthermia. Those are the symptoms of a person in a state of Excited Delirium, a condition that, especially when combined with drug use, can result in death.
Excited delirium is most often associated with users of cocaine, methamphetamine, and PCP, but may surface in non-drug users as well. The condition surfaces suddenly, without warning, and can be extremely terrifying to bystanders and family members.
A person experiencing a bout of excited delirium may experience an alarmingly high heart rate, incoherence, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, and body temperature to go as high as 108 degrees Fahrenheit. They often feel so hot that they disrobe in an attempt to cool down. Similar conditions are seen in people who use/abuse Bath Salts.
In the past, law enforcement officials simply assumed the violent behavior was the result of drug use and met the suspect’s aggression with the necessary force needed to terminate the threat and effect an arrest.
Typically, to quell extremely violent suspects who are obviously experiencing excited delirium or a similar event, officers employ, for example, the use of Tasers, pepperspray, batons, or the piling on of every officer available (the Polyester Pile). Unfortunately, people have died while being restrained by so many officers at once the case of Eric Garner is a perfect example).
It’s not that officers mean to harm anyone during these attempts to restrain. Not at all. The deaths resulted from officers trying every means possible to gain control of extremely violent and abnormally strong criminal suspects. Again, I cannot stress enough the extreme strength of these individuals. And, they seem to feel no pain whatsoever.
A Polyester Pile (slang) is formed when every officer piles on top of an unruly suspect in order to bring that person’s violent behavior to an end. This is not a method that’s taught in any training. It’s normally a knee-jerk reaction to an action.
Now, as more information comes to light, officers are taking a different approach to handling people in states of excited delirium. And the approach involves careful planning and the assistance of trained medical professionals.
First, officers are trained to recognize the characteristics of the condition. If they determine their suspect is indeed in a state of excited delirium then they should immediately call for back up (4-6 officers are optimum) and emergency medical personnel (local EMS must also be trained and prepared to deal with these situations).
Officers should gain control of the suspect’s arms and legs, immobilizing them. This restraining tactic should be practiced over and over again until they have it perfected. Each man should know what he’s going to do before the technique is initiated (who grabs which arm or which leg). Sure, sometimes it may be necessary to use a Taser, but never after the suspect is on the ground. That’s the time for gaining control of the limbs. Besides, what’s the point of more shocks after a suspect is lying on the ground. Just handcuff them for goodness sake!
Once the suspect has been Tasered and restrained, medical personnel can then administer a sedative, such as Versed (a knock-out type drug used prior to surgery). Then it’s time for an injection of iced saline to keep the body temperature down which prevents overheating (overheating may be the actual cause of death in these situations). Now it’s time for appropriate medical treatment in a hospital, not a trip straight to jail.
Now, after saying all that I have a solution for those of you who have problems with excited delirium…Stop Using Drugs! Your family does not want to attend your premature funeral. Police officers certainly don’t want to be the means of your early demise simply because you couldn’t refrain from smoking crack. I know it’s not easy, but neither is burying someone you care about.
NCADD _ National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.
244 East 58th Street 4th Floor New York, NY 10022
phone: 212/269-7797 fax: 212/269-7510
email: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.ncadd.org
Have a problem? Please call:
HOPE LINE: 800/NCA-CALL (24-hour Affiliate referral)