Some City Council members want the Chief Medical Examiner's Office to be much more open about its operations and they are proposing legislation to make that happen. But Monday's hearing on the matter was caught up in the fallout from a case that brought widespread and negative attention to the ME's office. NY1's Health reporter Erin Billups filed the following report.
Monday's hearing was meant to focus on the need for transparency in the Chief Medical Examiner's Office, but attention shifted several times to the handling of a hit-and-run victim's body earlier this month.
A photo captured 26-year-old Kevin Bell's body being placed in the back of a medical examiner's van alongside bags of recycling garbage on June 17, causing outrage in the Bronx neighborhood where it happened and in Ireland, where Bell is from.
"It is a disgrace for New York City," said Lisa McGovern of The Emerald Isle Immigration Center.
The acting Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, called it shameful and said the van driver was suspended and an investigation is underway.
"I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the family of Kevin Bell for the additional burden upon them at this most agonizing time," Sampson said.
On top of demanding answers about that particular case, City Council members were looking for more general accountability from the ME following revelations the office mishandled DNA evidence in over 50 rape cases.
One bill would require the office to put together a committee to produce a report within 90 days, on its response to any so-called significant event.
Under another, the office would have to post DNA lab workers' proficiency test results online, along with other information about its inner workings.
"We, the council, our advocates in the community and the legal advocates in our city are crying for transparency from this this office," said Bronx Councilwoman Maria Del Carmen Arroyo.
Officials with the Chief Medical Examiner's Office, though, were concerned with the proposals and sought to convince council members that they are taking the necessary steps to improve their quality control procedures.
"We fear that publishing the results of a root-cause analysis may interfere with the ongoing criminal justice process," Sampson said.
Sampson also warned the language in the reports may be too technical for the public and argued that assembling a committee would slow down investigations.
Arroyo brushed aside those concerns, insisting it is time for a change.