During the past week L.A.W. has revisited the Cohle scandal. Dr. Stephen Cohle is Kent County's chief medical examiner. Unlike the county prosecutor or the sheriff, Cohle doesn't work just for us, the public. He owns and operates a company, Laboratory Pathologists P.C., that provides medical examiner services to other counties and local hospitals. While making money from other counties probably isn't a matter of great concern, making money from Kent County hospitals such as Spectrum Health is.
The reason is simple. It creates a conflict of interest for Cohle between his duty to discern the truth for the public and his reliance upon a potential target of investigation for income. This conflict reared its ugly head in the Jennings and Sallie cases. Members of these families died while in the care of Spectrum Health. These families had valid reasons to be concerned that death had not occurred naturally. Laboratory Pathologists, on behalf of Spectrum Health, carried our medical examinations that concluded no wrongdoing. However, these examinations were seriously flawed and incomplete. Consequently, it was left to the Kent County medical examiner -- i.e., Cohle -- to get to the bottom of these deaths.
So Cohle was in the position of having officially determine whether or not his business, Laboratory Pathologists, had or had not failed to discover -- or worse, covered up -- wrongdoing by its customer Spectrum Health in the Jennings and Sallie deaths. In light of this conflict of interest, Cohle's publicly declared penchant for high living (hence need for cash), and the good doctor's failure to be recertified by his professional association, perhaps none of us should be surprised that Cohle's slapdash review of his own company's work determined that everything was hunky-dory. But it should surprise us that his employers, the Kent County Board of Commissioners not only refuses to exercise oversight of the medical examiner's office but has now silenced Cohle's critics.
In November and December of last year, Phyllis Jennings (whose father died at Spectrum) and Kristi Sallie (whose mother died there) brought Cohle's unprofessional conduct in the investigation of these deaths to the attention of the Kent County Board of Commissioners during a public hearing. While some commissioners made noises about this being a serious matter, nothing in fact occurred. Moreover, the minutes of the hearings failed to record what transpired. (The county must've learned that trick from the city.) In the end, the county commissioners praised Cohle and denounced his critics as troublemakers. Finally at a public hearing in June of this year at which Ms. Sallie raised the problem with Cohle once again, the commissioners issued an edict muzzling her dissent.
So that's how your county commissioners resolved the problem of Cohle's conflict of interest between his public duties as medical examiner and his private receipt of income from parties he is charged with investigating. They will not discuss it, and they have silenced anyone who insists that they should. Worse yet, the public record of this scandal has vanished. Ms. Jennings and Ms. Sallie are now non-persons according to the Kent County Board of Commissioners, because they had the gall to demand that they do the oversight of the medical examiner's office that the voter have entrusted them to do.
Meanwhile, folks, the good doctor Cohle continues to receive paychecks from you the taxpayers and from Spectrum Health. Seeing that the county commissioners have rolled over, his paycheck from you is securely in his pocket. All Cohle has to worry about now is making sure that Spectrum Health, the behemoth on the hill that has the clout to silence a TV station in Detroit, stays happy. So who do you think he is really working for?