Investigative Unit: Coroner Files, where are the records?
CLINTON - Tonight, there are allegations that the former Coroner in East Feliciana Parish broke the law as she left office this year.
All of this centers around missing documents in the coroner's office. The WBRZ Investigative Unit has learned Laura DeJohn, the former coroner, operated her office on a verbal basis and apparently kept no records during her nearly two years in office.
If you call any Coroner in this area, most will tell you they keep records of death certificates, autopsy reports and sexual assaults. The documents can go back decades if you ask. That's not the case in East Feliciana Parish where records don't seem to exist.
Tucked away in the quaint town of Clinton, you'll find this office space next to the Clerk of Court's Office. Inside, it's empty, except for some electronics on the floor. This vacant office used to be where Coroner Laura DeJohn conducted her business. It's what was inside that office and where it went that is a mystery tonight.
"Whatever happened before I entered office on March 28, I have no clue as to what occurred," Dr. Michael Cramer said. "There are some things that require paperwork from the previous administration and I can't fulfill that obligation at this time."
When Dr. Cramer took over in March, he noticed his job wasn't easy to do. This month, he sent a letter to Laura DeJohn requesting documents from her.
Part of it reads, "It is time for... you...to transfer all coronal records...to the current coroner."
"As the new coroner, I felt like I needed all of the documents to run my office," Cramer said.
Instead, DeJohn got her attorney from New Orleans involved who sent a five page letter in response.
Part of it reads,"The East Feliciana Parish Coroner's Office during Ms.DeJohn's tenure, where there was no secretarial help, was operated on a purely verbal basis...accordingly, no such documents exist." The letter repeatedly says the Coroner's office maintained no written records. It goes on to say records are kept at other agencies.
The new coroner wanted documents over a 20 year period. DeJohn's husband was the longtime coroner up there, before he died in office, and Laura DeJohn took over.
"Obviously people have died in East Feliciana Parish," East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said. "They've had sexual assaults, and we know that emergency certificates that were done. There has to be some paperwork generated even if there were no employees in the office."
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark finds it hard to believe that DeJohn couldn't produce any records to the new coroner from her time in office. He doesn't buy that Laura DeJohn doesn't have any records. Clark had no problem pulling files where DeJohn submitted bills on East Feliciana Parish Coroner letterhead after she vacated office, just a few weeks ago. DeJohn was trying to collect $2,200 from Clark and East Baton Rouge Parish taxpayers for work she claims she performed on patients with mental illness, where she issued a coroner's emergency certificate. Clark never paid her since DeJohn is not a doctor.
"Louisiana law states the only people who can do an emergency certificate is a coroner, either a physician, licensed psychologist or a mental health nurse practitioner," Clark said.
When asked if he believes laws were broken, Clark responded, "It seems to me based off of what I read of Louisiana law."
We wanted to question DeJohn about all of these issues. Her attorney said she refused to do an on camera interview. When we went looking for her in East Feliciana Parish, we reached her on the phone and found her trying to leave her house. But, the moment she saw us, she turned a small white car around and quickly drove back up her driveway.
"I find it hard to believe that there wouldn't be any records," Clark said. "It doesn't make sense to me. If you conducted the work of this office, or any parish of Louisiana, you'd want to document your findings. I'd imagine one of those cases was a crime and it would end up in court, and you'd have to present documents to the judge and jury and to the court."
But, with no records in East Feliciana Parish, questions are being raised about whether DeJohn broke state laws.
RS 42:321 states, §321. Outgoing officer to deliver records to successor
"Every public officer shall, upon resignation, removal, or upon the expiration of his term, deliver all the books, records, documents and writings appertaining to his office, without delay to his successor or to a person duly authorized to receive them."
The penalty for not doing so is also clear.
RS 42:322 states, §322. Penalty for failure to deliver records; application
"Every public officer who withholds or detains from his successor, or other person entitled by law thereto, any of the books, records, documents, or writings appertaining to his office, or who mutilates, destroys, or takes them away from the building or office where they are usually kept, shall be imprisoned not less than one year nor more than ten years.
The provisions of this Section apply to any person, who has in his possession books, records, documents, or writings, and refuses to deliver them to the proper authority, or who willfully mutilates, destroys, withholds, or detains them, or aids in their mutilation, destruction, or detention."
Tonight, new Coroner Dr. Michael Cramer isn't' issuing death certificates for people who died while DeJohn was in office since he has no records.
"Please give me the records," Cramer said.
We were scheduled to interview Laura DeJohn's attorney this morning in New Orleans. Late last night, he canceled the interview. Tonight, we've learned complaints were filed with the Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney about the lack of records in East Feliciana Parish.
The new coroner also requested information on how money was being spent or received, but DeJohn's attorney says she didn't' keep or maintain those records either.