Officials remain mum on suspension, investigation of Mississippi’s chief medical examiner

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Larrison Campbell, Mississippi Today

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn

Mississippi Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn is being investigated by the attorney general’s office and has been placed on administrative leave, but officials are saying little about the case.

“We can’t comment yet because of an ongoing investigation,” Colby Jordan, spokeswoman for the Mississippi attorney general’s office, said on Thursday.

Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said LeVaughn is on administrative leave but could not provide details because, “It’s a personnel matter.”

Tindell said his office has notified district attorneys statewide that LeVaughn would not be available to testify or help with cases while he’s suspended.

“We are working with contract pathologists to make sure the backlog doesn’t become an issue, and we continue to make strides there,” said Tindell, who took office in June.

Backlogs have been common for years with the medical examiner’s office and the State Crime Lab, significantly slowing prosecution of homicide and other cases across the state. Tindell said solving this has been a focus of his administration and he said using contract pathologists moving forward could be part of the solution.

Tindell said that, to his knowledge, LeVaughn had not been arrested.

LeVaughn, a forensic pathologist, was named chief medical examiner in 2011. The office is charged with determining the cause and manner of death for all reportable deaths requiring investigation, including homicides, suicides, accidents, child deaths, in-custody deaths, workplace deaths, and unexplained deaths.

Medical death investigations in Mississippi had been conducted by county medical examiners, but in 2011, the Legislature re-established the state medical examiner’s office and replaced the county coroner system with a statewide, mixed coroner/state examiner system.

Tindell said that in June, the office had added a third examiner, but that the office is now back down to two. The state has struggled to hire and keep deputy examiners and autopsy technicians because of low pay compared to other states.

READ MORE: Bodies roll in, evidence stacks up as Mississippi faces a public safety crisis.

Over the summer, LeVaughn reported that the Mississippi Forensic Laboratory and examiner’s office had 26 vacant positions and that there were dozens of autopsies waiting to be conducted. Some families had been waiting for two years for autopsy reports, officials said at the time, and at one point in recent years the examiner’s caseload had reached about 1,700 cases.

Tindell said on Thursday he did not know the number of cases LeVaughn’s suspension might affect or the current backlog.