RICHMOND, Va. -- State medical examiners have a lot of power, influence, and responsibility. They are responsible for investigating suspicious and unnatural deaths that occur in the state, and their testimony is often the most important part of a murder trial.
But one of them is making shocking allegations of corruption inside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Kevin Whaley posted serious allegations online on March 31, 2016 of problems inside the Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office.
Dr. Whaley sat down with CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit for an exclusive interview to discuss the concerns he raised in the video.
“We`re physicians and we`re supposed to be in the best interest of our patients, who for us are the decedents and their families, and we`re not acting in that fashion,” Whaley said.
Among Whaley’s concerns are the way he said his office sells brains to the National Institutes of Health.
That happens if a victim’s family agrees to donate the brain for research.
“The thing is for each brain we supply to NIH the office gets $6,250. Now, the family is never made aware of that, so we`re getting paid per brain,” Whaley said.
Whaley provided us with what he claims to be an amended contract that shows NIH agreed to pay the state a total of $150,000 in exchange for two dozen brains.
He said that is an excessively high amount given the short time it takes to extract a brain and send it to the NIH. Whaley said it makes him question the fees his office charges others.
“I have a hard time telling families you can`t have an autopsy report if you don`t have $40 when I know we just got paid $6,250 for a brain,” Whaley said.
Whaley also alleges that under the Chief Medical Examiner, Doctor William Gormley, examiners are subtly being urged to show bias toward law enforcement.
“In fact, we`ve had cases in the back with law enforcement involved shootings where the chief has actually come back and joked with law enforcement, 'Well, they would have died if you`d tasered them anyways....' So it sort of sends a subtle message to us that, yeah... if you`re going to err on the side, you need to err on the side of law enforcement,” Whaley said. “We have to be completely unbiased. I mean our sole job is to be an advocate for the deceased.”
Finally, Whaley alleges that after one of his colleagues recently retired, leaving the Richmond office with two assistant chief medical examiners instead of three, the pair was instructed to finish autopsy reports as quickly as possible, and told that any mistakes they made would be caught in court.
“Is it possible that mistakes made in your office had an impact on the outcome of a case?” Hipolit asked Whaley.
“I know there are people that have been falsely convicted because of things that have happened in the office... and people that have walked that are guilty,” Whaley responded.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago we asked the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for an on-camera interview to respond to Whaley’s accusations, but we only received an email.
However, on the day the story was scheduled to be broadcast, Dr. Marissa Levine, the State Health Commissioner for the Virginia Department of Health, said she wanted to respond to Whaley’s allegations on camera.
“I was aware that a statement had been provided, but I wasn’t aware that nobody had been on the camera as part of that process,” Levine said.
In an interview at the Virginia Department of Health conducted just hours before airtime, Dr. Levine said the state is now conducting an internal investigation into Whaley’s allegations.
“As state health commissioner, I take any allegation very seriously,” Levine said.
Regarding the sale of brains, Levine said the $6,250 payment is per month, not per brain.
“There is a cost to provide service to do that. The contract is with NIH, and it’s a per month contract. There is no volume related to that. I think it serves a very important purpose and these are families that have been counseled and informed by NIH. The OCME is not involved in those conversations and is providing a service to NIH for this research project,” Levine said.
When asked about the alleged bias toward law enforcement, Levine defended the OCME, but said she is taking Whaley’s claim seriously.
“We specifically have the OCME in the Health Department not in a justice or a law enforcement department for that purpose. Obviously they have to work closely together with law enforcement, but it is a separation of duties and it’s appropriate separation of duties to carry that out. I think we have significant professionals in that office who are committed to identifying what the facts tell them and to provide that information,” Levine said.
And, in response to Whaley’s allegation about rushed autopsy reports, Levine said “I am not aware that any of that has come to light, and in the past if there were situations like that they would have been fully investigated. So if there are specifics, if we find any specifics in our investigation, we will look at that further, but to date there had not been such allegations.”
Since we started asking questions, Dr. Whaley said he received a letter from the Chief Medical Examiner saying he had been placed on pre-disciplinary leave with pay pending an agency investigation into whether disciplinary action may be appropriate.
After CBS 6’s investigation aired, Virginia’s Chief Medical Examiner extended paid pre-disciplinary leave for Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Kevin Whaley by an additional 10 days.
“This will allow me time to review all information presented to me during this investigation and decide on the next appropriate actions,” Dr. William Gormley, Chief Medical Examiner, wrote in a letter dated May 5, 2016.
Whaley, who has been with the office for 10 years, said he plans on retiring this summer.