Behind the curtain at the county coroner's office

Elected official leads staff that investigates deaths

Chancy J. Gatlin-Anderson
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 10/19/21

Inside the Douglas County Coroner's Office in Castle Rock, there's an autopsy suite equipped with modern equipment to carry out medical examinations. There is a refrigerated room holding cadavers, …

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Behind the curtain at the county coroner's office

Elected official leads staff that investigates deaths

Posted

Inside the Douglas County Coroner's Office in Castle Rock, there's an autopsy suite equipped with modern equipment to carry out medical examinations. There is a refrigerated room holding cadavers, with bodies in black bags on metal gurneys.

The office has black, electric, unmarked SUVs used to transport bodies to the office from the scene of death.

The office's mission is "providing the citizens of Douglas County, medical professionals, and members of the justice system accurate, scientific, and unbiased medical-based determinations of cause and manner of death in cases falling under the jurisdiction of the office," its website says.

Like other coroners across the country, County Coroner Jill Romann is an elected official, now serving her second term after first being elected in 2014. Previously she was chief deputy coroner.

Romann is not a physician, but she has three decades of experience in the field, including 21 years as a board-certified medicolegal death investigator for coroner's and medical examiner's offices in Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin, her county biography says.

Throughout her time working in death investigation, Romann has given a lot of thought as to the most efficient leadership for the position of coroner.

“The best run offices are regional offices run by physicians,” said Romann. “Unfortunately, there is a shortage of board-certified forensic pathologists. They are people who have undergraduate degrees, ... have four years of medical school, and extensive training in a specialization afterward.”

In order to be a forensic pathologist, you have to be an anatomical and clinical pathologist before you can even test, she said. “They are the best of the best of the best. “Unfortunately, they are the lowest-paid physicians out there because they are government employees. We have a 50% to 60% shortage in the nation of board-certified forensic pathologists.”

Medicolegal death investigators like Romann come from a variety of fields, including anthropology, law enforcement, paramedics, mortuary science and nursing. Romann explained that of all medicolegal death investigators nationwide, only 4,000 people have tested for board certification, and roughly 245 have passed.

“At the Douglas County Coroner's Office, all death investigators are required to test,” Romann said. “I have got the most board-certified medicolegal death investigators in one office outside of New York City.”

Jessica Ray has worked as a death investigator for nearly 10 years, specializing in cases involving opioid addiction and characteristics of opioid-related death. She is board-certified by the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators and is currently the highest-trained death investigator at the Douglas County Coroner's Office.

“Doing this job is like a calling for me. I don't even really consider this a job,” Ray said. “I love to serve people in this capacity and learn about people's stories, like how they get to a place in life where they end up in a coroner's office.”

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