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Coroner’s office has been ‘dead wrong’ in series of critical autopsies

4th May 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Michael A. Radcliff
The Louisiana Weekly Contributing Writer

One of the essential building blocks to teaching young children is the development of their critical thinking skills through the use of patterns. Finding a pattern is a strategy in which students look for in data in order to solve the problem. Students look for items, numbers, or a series of events that repeat.

So what does the cases of Adolph Archie, Henry Glover, Raymond Robair and Cayne Miceli all have in common.

According to several expert pathologists, a single reoccurring pattern that permeates throughout all of these “high-profile” cases is the often inaccurate, mostly misleading and at times the apparent fabrication of autopsy results by the Orleans Parish Coroner’s office.

Forensic pathology is the branch of medicine that is supposed to produce evidence or the facts relevant to the cause of death, manner of death and mechanism of death via an autopsy report. In many jurisdictions, the coroner has to determine, if possible, the cause of death and if appropriate, decide if there is a need for an inquest, which is a formal and usually public coroner’s hearing into the death.

The term autopsy is from the Greek word “autopsia,” meaning “to see with one’s own eyes.” However the city’s coroner has stated repeatedly that he never personally performs autopsies.

In March of 1990, Adolph Archie, an African American, shot and killed white police officer Earl Hauck during a shootout in downtown New Orleans.
Archie then died shortly after being taken into police custody.

According to the Archie family’s attorney, Mary Howell, “It turns out Dr. Frank Minyard, (Orleans Parish coroner,] did an autopsy [in] which the injuries appeared to be consistent with a slip and fall.”

She said, “We end up doing a follow-up autopsy, which shows extensive injuries. In addition to the hemorrhaging around the neck, Archie’s face had been kicked in. There’s indentations [showing that] his teeth had been kicked in; he had a fractured larynx; he had massive hemorrhaging all over the back of his body, his testicles [were] hemorrhaging. The FBI eventually brought Dr. Michael Baden in to review all the autopsy reports, who concluded that he had been beaten to death by the police.”

Following the follow-up autopsy, the Coroner’s office changed the cause of death to “homicide by police intervention.”

The city settled a lawsuit filed by Archie’s family and to date no one has ever been held accountable for the murder of Adolph Archie.

On July 30, 2005, according to eyewitnesses, Raymond Robair had an encounter with the police that would leave him battered, bloodied, and lying lifeless on the ground. After the severe beating, the officers would then throw his body into the back of their squad car and transport him to Charity Hospital and leave. Robair would later die as a result of his injuries.

Despite eyewitness accounts, and the fact that Mr. Robair had suffered four fractured ribs, and a lacerated spleen, as well as evidence of blows to his thighs and the back of his legs, his death was classified as an “accident” by the Coroner’s office.

In all fairness, it was only as a result of a subsequent autopsy by Dr. Kris Sperry, a forensic pathologist and Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Georgia’s Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Science, that Dr. Minyard would even know about the injuries to Robair’s spleen and lower extremities since Minyard’s pathologist never examine the spleen as it was removed during surgery and couldn’t be located, and that he didn’t even bother to look at the victim’s lower extremities.

Coming to his pathologist’s defense last year for not performing a thorough examination, Minyard explained, “In autopsies you don’t usually put down all the normal things — you put down the abnormal things.”

However as a result of his findings, Dr. Sperry ruled Robair’s death a homicide. Two officers were later charged, arrested and recently convicted of causing the death of Mr. Raymond Robair.

On Sept. 9, 2005, the remains of Henry Glover were found in a burned out Chevy along a levee in “Old Algiers.” Despite having a bullet wound in the skull, the coroner’s office ruled the death “unclassified.” It was never flagged as a possible homicide, and as a result the case was buried for years.

It was only through the unrelenting efforts of Glover’s family and friends that the case was eventually re-opened, the truth uncovered and the guilty parties brought to justice.

In a subsequent FBI deposition given by Glover’s sister, she stated that she personally told Minyard after her brother’s body was found that he “had been murdered by either the police or National Guardsmen.”

Dr. Minyard later denied that the conversation had ever taken place.

In December 2006, in yet another case of alleged police brutality, another outside pathologist brought in by the victim’s family after questioning the coroner’s results, found that Minyard’s office failed to dissect the victim’s neck muscles —even though an eyewitness stated, “I think he died from being choked to death.”

According to the attorney representing the victim’s family, several “witnesses who had been at the corner, walked up to the scene and were probably 10 to 15 feet away watching as the officers put Gerald Arthur in a choke hold, so they had a pretty good view.”

The pathologist went on to say that Minyard’s examination was “grossly negligent” and “a major mistake.”

Cayne Miceli, a 43-year-old New Orleans woman who suffered from a long history of chronic asthma, also suffered from bouts of depression and panic attacks. In January of 2009, her asthma flared up and she went to Tulane Medical Center for treatment. Accounts vary but it is known that she found herself in an altercation with one of the security guards and allegedly bit him when he attempted to forcibly remove her from the facility. She was then arrested on a disturbing the peace charge and transported to Central Lockup where despite her difficulty breathing, was allegedly ordered to be placed in five-point restraints for nine hours after an apparent suicide attempt. Sometime after 2:30 a.m., Miceli stopped breathing and by 3:12 a.m. was transported to University Hospital, where she was diagnosed with hypoxic brain injury, cardiac arrest and asthma. She was declared brain dead and removed from life support the following day.

According to reports, having observing excessive needle marks in the victim’s arms, Minyard’s office classified Miceli’s death as a “drug-related accidental death” even though a screen for drugs and alcohol turn up neither in Miceli’s blood.

A second autopsy was then performed, on the behest of Cayne’s father, by Dr. James Lauridson, the retired chief medical examiner for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, who found that Minyard’s office had misconstrued the needle marks on Miceli’s arms as evidence of drug use when in fact all of the needle puncture marks were a result of therapeutic and resuscitation interventions (i.e. drawing blood, IV’s, etc.)

“As I examined her lungs, it was very clear right away that her lungs and all of the airways were completely filled with mucous,” Lau­ridson said.

He concluded that her severe asthma, combined with the way she was restrained at the jail, had caused her death.

Following Dr. Lauridson’s lead, Minyard once again changed the cause of death from “drug- related” to “bronchial asthma.”

In an interview conducted on Nov. 23, 2009 by PBS Frontline, New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell explains that “As a result of the Coroner’s Office autopsies of in-custody victims being incomplete… and containing misleading information… we developed the habit that we would have to do our own autopsies, and it was shocking, the disparity that we would find.

“We would bring in an independent pathologist to do the autopsies. We would videotape them; we would tape-record them; we would take photographs — all of the stuff that is not happening in the coroner’s office — and invariably the findings we would have would be drastically different from what was happening at the coroner’s office. …”

Dr. Minyard’s office refused to comment on this article, citing pending litigation as the reason.

Dr. Frank Minyard is a board-certified gynecologist who has been the Orleans parish coroner since 1974. He has been re-elected nine times since then and will be 84 years old at the end of this, his 10th term.

This story originally published in the April 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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