LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Officials with the Department of Public Safety say State Troopers, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office raided the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office early Monday afternoon.
In January of 2019, the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office requested the Texas Rangers begin an investigation into allegations of misconduct regarding the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office. Once the investigation is complete, the Rangers will turn it over for review to the Office of the Attorney General.
The investigation into the Medical Examiner’s Office began in February of 2019. Monday, the Lubbock County DA’s Office said it could not comment on ongoing investigations.
An FBI spokesperson said she was aware of some activity at the Medical Examiner’s office last week but could not provide any further information about what happened today.
Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish told KCBD he is not aware if the warrants could be for National Autopsy Assay Group (NAAG) or for Dr. Sridhar Natarajan. He said it did not influence his decision to vote for postponing decisions on NAAG. He was not ready to vote on or discuss the proposed contract.
October 1 will mark one year since Dr. Sam Andrews took over as Chief Medical Examiner for Lubbock County. In that time KCBD has reported on the massive backlog within the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s office, as well as ongoing criminal allegations against the office and Dr. Andrews.
In Monday’s Lubbock County Commissioner’s Court meeting, commissioners voted on an agreement that would utilize the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office for forensic pathology services. County Judge Curtis Parrish said this agreement is not a contract, but only allows the use of services when needed.
However, an agreement with National Autopsy Assay Group Pathology Labs to complete all outstanding death investigations and death certificates started during current Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Andrews’ tenure here was postponed to Monday, Sept. 30.
If that were approved, Andrews would also be appointed as associate medical examiner until those autopsies and death certificates are complete.
“We just wanted to take a longer look at the contract proposed by NAAG that would give us the opportunity to truly vet out that contract rather than making the decisions just at the last minute,” Judge Parrish said. “It was the wise decision. It will give us the opportunity to actually sit down and crunch some of the numbers and give us a better, cleaner look and make that decision on September 30.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Jason Corley moved before executive session to postpone the decision. The motion failed but commissioners unanimously voted to postpone following executive session.
“We did not receive the second NAAG contract until Thursday,” Corley said. “That’s not enough time to give everyone on the court an appropriate amount of time to deliberate on what they need to do and to also do their own research, as well. We also received an updated version this morning about 9 o’clock. That is not sufficient time to allow this body to deliberate and make a decision for the benefit of the Lubbock County tax payer.”
NAAG Pathology began tackling a backlog of cases at the ME’s office after the departure of Dr. Natarajan. Corley said there were an additional 113 cases discovered by NAAG, also leaving about 150 still open as NAAG’s contract comes to an end.
Corley said he’s hoping to cut ties this month with NAAG and seek services from Tarrant County or other agencies like South Plains Forensics.
“Basically, closing out these cases would involve putting everything together, pictures, notes anything like that and getting it all ready to go,” Corley said. “Then, whoever the medical examiner is would have to sign those out, whether that’s Dr. Andrews, our current medical examiner, or the medical examiner who would come in October 1.”
The County is also facing issues with the custody of property like human tissues, autopsy pictures and other items currently at NAAG headquarters in San Diego, California. Corley expects that to be resolved.
However, other issues stem from the lack of auditing of the ME’s office. Reports to the Commissioners’ Court show there hasn’t been a review since August of 2018, due to the lack of proper documentation and county revenues provided to the county auditor.
“If you take a look at the quarterly reports from the auditor’s office, you can see multiple reports in there that NAAG has not sent over any paperwork, no information basically,” Corley said. “One of the things that’s contracted with NAAG is that if they do perform autopsies that are not for Lubbock County that there would be a split. Any revenues collected from that would go 50 percent to Lubbock County and 50 percent to NAAG. There has been no reporting. We haven’t received anything and you can read all that in the auditors report.”
Judge Parrish said the county would pursue those discrepancies before the week is out.
“We are continuing to work with, during this last week of our contract, with NAAG that not only the cases we have pending out there are closed out properly but the books are closed out as well,” Parrish said. “And, making sure our auditor has access to all of their records going forward so Lubbock County can make this transition to a new medical examiner very smoothly and without some of the issues that we’ve seen with transitions in the past.”