Longform

Quincy He Ain't

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This and similar incidents alarmed three associate medical examiners, Valerie Rao, Emma Lew, and Bruce Hyma, who have a combined 35 years of experience in the department. They expressed their concerns in an April 1 memo addressed to Mittleman. "The Pathologist should not leave the office for the day without dictating all the protocols for that day's work. Even though one may take voluminous notes for each case, it is impossible to recall minutiae after a day or two have elapsed," the doctors wrote. "The final reason is that the report may be challenged by the courts based on the premise that the protocol was not dictated on the day of the examination.... Given our current state of technology, we have no legitimate reason or excuse for not dictating the protocol on the day of the examination."

A New Times review of medical examiner records found two other instances where reports were completed several days after autopsies.

Rao, Lew, and Hyma also complained that autopsy reports were being changed after they were finished. Some personnel were pulling pages from autopsy reports and replacing them with new ones. Once again the three doctors believed the practice could discredit reports in a trial. They also feared such an activity would violate Florida's public-records law. "If something needs to be added or changed, an addendum must be written to the protocol, signed and dated, and provided as part of the autopsy protocol," Rao, Lew, and Hyma wrote. "Changing a protocol after it has been signed by the doctor can be construed as spoilage of or altering evidence."

Mittleman responds that he was unaware of these practices. The chief says he strictly enforces the department's policy and has ordered that changes in reports be made through addenda. He also told the staff to alert him when his order is violated.

In addition employees complain about assistant director Lengel's authoritative management style. When he took over, overtime pay was eliminated. Employees would receive a tardy slip if they were just a minute late. And, the employees add, Lengel frequently displayed a revolver he wore on his ankle to employees.

Mittleman acknowledges a few minor problems. "I believe there were some blips here and there," the chief admits.

In upcoming months Mittleman may have even more to worry about. The investigation ordered by Assistant County Manager Paul Philip is expected by the end of the month. A draft report written by Marcia Saunders, director of the Office of Fair Employment Practices, highlights thirteen areas where the department could improve.

Among the draft report's recommendations: "Caution [Lengel] not to use offensive language; assign senior staff to review styles and requirements for [autopsy reports] for uniformity and accuracy; continue collective dialogue on policy matters."

Saunders downplayed the problem of low morale. "At entry-level the employees expressed a great deal of pride in their work and its importance to the community. Without exception they expressed a strong commitment and dedication to the department. They take pride in the department's reputation for providing accurate autopsy reports and serving the affected families during very difficult circumstances," Saunders wrote. "Some members of the staff did, however, express concern regarding management and particularly the need to be involved in the decision-making and policy changes."

The staffers interviewed by New Times say Saunders underestimates the problems and point to a dozen employees who have left the department in the past year. Some worry that the stellar reputation they worked hard to build is being tarnished.

Lieberman describes the staff's overwhelming reaction to Saunder's report thus: "Nothing but a whitewash."

Mittleman says he has already instituted many of the report's recommendations. He is also open to further changes suggested by the staff.

One outstanding issue is a claim by forensic photographer Andre Santos that Lengel slapped him in the face this past November. Santos says he refused to follow Lengel's order to change his time card. Santos says the ex-cop grabbed him by the arm, pulled him into an elevator, and slapped him three times in the face. "I felt his hand fifteen minutes afterwards," Santos told a county investigator. Lengel denies touching Santos. The investigation by the Office of Fair Employment practices continues.

Lieberman and several staffers say a 1996 handout by Dr. Davis titled "Management Skills in Forensic Pathology" may provide the answer to their complaints. Written shortly after his retirement, it lists general problems in training, communication, budgetary issues, and provides recommended responses. It reads: "PROBLEM: A medical examiner may be able to quote from management texts but may fail to be a good manager," Dr. Davis wrote. "SOLUTION: Usually this involves a basic personality defect which has no solution except to get rid of the medical examiner.

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Jose Luis Jiménez