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Sunday, April 25, 2010

EDITORIAL: Our Opinion: Judgment called into question

April 25, 2010

The duties of the county coroner, as expressed in the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association’s creed, are straightforward:

“The ancient office of Coroner, or the modern office of Medical Examiner, along with the state-licensed physician is legally charged with significant duties in answering the pertinent questions relating to death: Who, Where, When, What, How, Why. Only when these questions have been answered correctly, can all the proper legal issues arising at death be effectively handled for the proper administration of justice.”

Less poetically stated, the coroner’s job is to establish the official record for deaths in a county and record accurate information on them.

Yet over the years Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone’s office has exercised questionable judgment that has seemed to contradict that mission.


* March 2010: Patrick Burns, 50, had died in January after struggling with four sheriff’s deputies. He had broken into a neighbor’s home, beat a woman inside and was subdued only after officers used Taser stun guns 21 times on him. Cocaine, marijuana, Wellbutrin and Prozac were in his system at the time, and he was hog-tied while transported to the hospital. During the inquest, Boone lectured the Burns family on the dangers of cocaine use.

“I can’t stress this enough: One time using cocaine will kill you,” said Boone, who advocated that the jury cite excited delirium from cocaine as the official cause of death. The jury ruled the cause was undetermined.

* April 2010: Boone said that she sometimes removes statements from official transcripts of inquests. In the Burns case, she removed her own statements to the inquest jury in which she praised Bowman — who had been criticized by members of the Burns family. She said she sometimes removes statements that “could be hurtful to the family” of the deceased. She claimed transcripts from proceedings in courts of law were similarly edited. In fact, anything said to a jury in a court proceeding is on the record and becomes part of the official transcript.

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