Letter: Support Rothrock for independence as coroner

From: Lonnie Vautaw


Investigations of deaths associated with police contact require the highest levels of scrutiny, accountability and transparency. That is why independence of the coroner’s office from law enforcement is key. The duties of a coroner could conflict and interfere with the duties of a city police officer in charge of a death scene. The two offices are incompatible. A review of statutory duties of the respective offices indicates that this type of dual office-holding is prohibited by common-law incompatibility.

Supporting Paula Rothrock, a registered nurse and former city police officer, will ensure there is no conflict of interest or allegations of preferential treatment. With Paula at the helm there will be no overlap of a death investigation. Paula will not have a conflict of interest with the city as an employer and will be under no obligation to investigate that employer. Example: an unexplained death while in the custody of law enforcement.

As a medical professional, Paula Rothrock brings medical decision making to the coroner’s office. The city police officer is a layperson with investigative training. With Paula there will be no disconnect between determination regarding cause and manner of death.

A 1985 death in Lake County, Indiana, caused headlines to read “Homicide or Suicide.” The death occurred after 32 blows to the head. Police maintained it was a suicide. The coroner, Dr. Daniel Thomas, ruled it was homicide. “He would have been unconscious. He could not administer 32 blows to himself,” the coroner said. “The dead giveaway on this is that he was a right-handed man and the police said he turned his head to the left and administered the blows.”

The coroner and law enforcement investigators should be independent of each other in rendering a determination of the manner and cause of death. The coroner benefits from the experience, expertise and resources law enforcement can provide. Law enforcement benefits from an independent coroner death investigation. This should be a cooperative relationship, based on documenting a death scene together. A weak link exists when there is no independent coroner’s office.

Being coroner is noble work — they speak for the dead and help protect and care for families. The coroner is the last voice of someone who is gone. Support and vote that voice in Paula Rothrock.