The resignation and statements attributed to a former V.I. Department of Justice (DOJ) Medical Examiner (ME) for the St. Croix district were made public by a local online news blog that raised questions regarding morgue conditions at the Juan F. Luis Hospital morgue (JFL Morgue).
It is important that we provide clarification to the public regarding the circumstances concerned. The article made public statements it attributed to the former medical examiner about a myriad of problems experienced at the JFL Morgue, which is owned and managed by the JFL and utilized by the DOJ Office of the Medical Examiner (OME). The DOJ has never had its own morgue/autopsy facility until just recently established in St. Thomas.
For over thirty years, DOJ medical examiners have utilized the JFL, and Schneider hospital morgues, including pathology and autopsy equipment and supplies, to secure bodies and conduct autopsies as required by law resulting from homicides, suicides and suspicious deaths occurring outside the hospital. The hospital morgues, which are managed and operated by the respective hospitals, have always allowed the DOJ to use their morgue/autopsy facilities for DOJ’s limited ME purposes. The bodies in custody of the DOJ are stored, along with the hospital bodies, in the JFL Morgue.
Due to hurricane damage to the JFL facility, the JFL Hospital announced a transition plan which would include demolishing the hospital, including the present morgue and facilities, and advised the DOJ that the JFL Morgue will soon no longer be made available to the DOJ for its use. This prompted immediate plans for DOJ to get its own ME Office facility including a fully equipped morgue and autopsy suite in place so that the medical examiner services and operations will no longer operate out of the JFL Morgue.
When the former ME complained of security concerns regarding how the bodies were stored at the JFL Morgue earlier this year, DOJ immediately purchased a new fully equipped 40-foot DOJ Medical Examiner refrigerated mobile morgue container to properly secure DOJ bodies pending autopsies, all in consultation with the ME. The container was shipped, delivered and installation is now in progress. To resolve concerns raised by the former ME regarding the need for DOJ’s own X-Ray machines used in autopsies to identify the location of bullets, DOJ purchased two portable digital x-ray machines at the ME’s recommendation, both of which have been recently shipped and delivered to the ME Office in St. Thomas. For years the MEs have always used the X-Ray service at the respective hospitals for the autopsies and will now soon not have to do so.
The X-ray machine for St. Croix will be delivered when the new facility is completed. When the former ME earlier this year requested that a specific funeral home be used as a better alternative and more suitable location than the JFL morgue to perform the autopsies, DOJ immediately entered into an arrangement in which autopsies were performed at the funeral home. In the June 2022 resignation letter made public, the former ME (i) described conditions at the JFL Morgue and the funeral home, which rendered the morgue unsuitable for the performance of autopsies and (ii) stated that the funeral home first used as an alternative to JFL Morgue to perform the autopsies was also unsuitable due to its size and space.
Upon receiving this information, it was determined that all autopsies will have to be performed by our MEs out of the fully equipped Medical Examiner Office in St. Thomas, temporarily. To be clear, there are no other morgues in St. Croix other than the JFL Morgue, which does not belong to DOJ and was deemed by the ME as unsuitable for the performance of autopsies. JFL owns and operates the morgue for its own hospital purposes and DOJ MEs were allowed to use it for years to conduct autopsies as well as store bodies under the control of the OME.
DOJ did not shut down the Medical Examiner Office in St. Croix, as there was never a Medical Examiner Office facility in St. Croix. Because the STX ME deemed the JFL Morgue and the alternative funeral home unsuitable to perform autopsies, there are no suitable locations on St. Croix to perform the autopsies. Autopsies are therefore performed at the Medical Examiner Office on St. Thomas by two MEs. This can clearly cause some inconvenience, but it is the best and only reasonable solution, albeit temporary, until the St. Croix Medical Examiner facility is ready. Plans are underway for a fully equipped modular St. Croix Medical Examiner Office facility including a morgue and autopsy suite through a design-build turnkey procurement project. It has been deemed a “Public Exigency” procurement expected to be completed expeditiously.
July 27, 2022
Media Relations Director
(340)774-5666 ext. 10105