NC Medical Examiner System Confuses Cause of Death, Denies Victim Justice

October 30 , 2015

On October 10, 2015, officers from the Concord Police Department discovered the lifeless body of Cecil Boykin lying on the bathroom floor of his home in North Carolina. Observing a cord around Boykin’s neck, the Concord PD determined the cause of death to be suicide. However, North Carolina’s laws require causes of death to be determined by medical examiners – not by law enforcement officers. Nearly three years have passed since Cecil’s death, but Boykin’s devastated family members remain locked in a search for answers. Why did medical examiners depend on police officers instead of conducting their own investigations, even though state law demands otherwise? Why was no autopsy performed on Boykin’s body? And how might this case impact future investigations into fatal accidents or injuries? Our Charlotte wrongful death attorneys investigate.

NC Man Cremated without Autopsy, Medical Examiner Points to Police

When a person dies from unknown causes in North Carolina, his or her cause of death must be determined by a medical examiner. This is established by G.S. § 130A-383(a), which provides that “the medical examiner of the county [where] the body… is found shall be notified” in any situation where the death:

  • Happened “suddenly,” despite the victim’s “apparent good health”
  • Occurred “under any suspicious, unusual or unnatural circumstance”
  • Occurred while the victim was incarcerated or in police custody
  • Resulted from “violence, poisoning, accident, suicide or homicide”

As the same law goes on to state, “No person shall disturb the body at the scene of such a death until authorized by the medical examiner…” The only exception to this rule is a scenario where (1) the medical examiner is not available, and (2) a police department or other law enforcement agency determines “the presence of the body at the scene would risk the integrity of the body or provide a hazard to the safety of others.”

Despite these laws, Boykin’s cause of death – an apparent suicide – was determined by the Concord Police Department. Cecil’s brother, Billy, wasn’t confident that it was suicide.

Seeking information about Cecil’s autopsy results, which they had hoped would provide conclusive answers, Boykin’s family contacted the Concord PD. But instead of getting answers, Boykin’s family was told that Cecil had already been cremated – before an autopsy could be conducted.

State law is supposed to allow surviving family members, like Cecil’s, to request autopsies when a loved one dies; yet the Boykins were denied this opportunity. Responsibility for conducting the autopsy fell to the Cabarrus County Medical Examiner, but because law enforcement ruled Cecil’s death a suicide, no autopsy was performed. As a medical examiner, Sylvia Collins told Cecil’s brother Billy, “[The police] assured me it was a suicide. We don’t normally do autopsies on suicides.”

For some legislators, the Boykin case exemplifies a broader issue that has long plagued North Carolina’s medical examination system. North Carolina Senator Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) stated, in no uncertain terms, “We have a number of people, autopsies that need to be performed and we just don’t have the capacity to do it. It’s not broken, it’s arcane. It’s so far outdated, it’s unbelievable; mainly understaffed.”

He added, “[T]here’s families that, literally, when there is something potentially nefarious… it isn’t justice delayed, it’s justice never delivered.”

For Billy Boykin and his mother, Tarte’s point isn’t just a political issue – it’s a reality they’ve experienced firsthand.

“It failed my brother. And, most likely, more people,” Billy said of the state’s medical examiner system. “We can’t be the only ones.”

The North Carolina Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, reported the following as the leading causes of injury death in North Carolina in 2015:

  1. Accidental Poisoning – 1,370 fatalities
  2. Motor Vehicle Traffic (Auto Accidents) – 1,318
  3. Accidental Falls – 1,125
  4. Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wounds – 762
  5. Assault Gunshot Wounds – 419
  6. Self-Inflicted Suffocation – 271
  7. Self-Inflicted Poisoning – 243
  8. Accidental Suffocation – 199
  9. “Unspecified” – 179
  10. Burn Injuries – 104

Charlotte Wrongful Death Attorneys Fighting for Victims’ Families

North Carolina’s medical examination process may get the overhaul it arguably needs if activists and legislators continue to voice their concerns and expose cracks in the system. But in the meantime, deceased North Carolinians’s surviving loved ones, like the family of Cecil Boykin, are often deprived of the justice and peace they deserve.

The wrongful death lawyers of the Ramsay Law Firm have investigated many cases where innocent people were killed under abnormal or unknown circumstances. We make it our personal mission to deliver justice for the grieving loved ones of accident victims – and through our combination of perseverance, experience, and sophisticated litigation strategies, our attorneys have successfully recovered compensation in wrongful death lawsuits.

When a loved one dies, the survivors deserve answers for what happened. If you recently lost a loved one, we can dig to uncover the truth.

To discuss a wrongful death claim confidentially in a free consultation, contact the Charlotte injury lawyers of the Ramsay Law Firm online, or call our law offices at (704) 376-1616. We handle wrongful death, personal injury, and workplace accident cases throughout the Charlotte area.

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