County Coroner’s Office Remaining with Sheriff’s Dept.

Connor Forbes
Connor Forbes
4 Min Read

Riverside County Coroner

Reforms Being Considered

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday not to separate the coroner‘s office from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, based on an Executive Office recommendation that was criticized by multiple members of the public.

“With trust needing to be really shored up and rebuilt, and community trust so vital to all county services, particularly with the largest department — the sheriff — the checks and balances that we assume take place with all our governmental functions should be put in place here,” former Supervisor Bob Buster told the board.

Buster, speaking publicly in the board chamber for the first time since leaving office in 2012, said it could only “redound to the board’s benefit” to make a change to coroner’s operations.

“Don’t allow the (sheriff’s) department to silo itself from the rest,” he said. “Everything can be dealt with all at once.”

He advocated a separation of the coroner’s office from the sheriff’s department by establishing a chief medical examiner position, through board appointment, and having that individual serve the county, with an independent staff, detached from the sheriff’s administration.

While Buster favored setting up an independent medical examiner’s office, other speakers favored a stand-alone coroner’s office, believing its personnel would not be influenced by internal sheriff’s politics or biases.

“The sheriff and coroner should be separated,” said Rabbi Suzanne Singer. “To send a law enforcement agency to do the job of the coroner seems to me to continue to keep this a closed process.”

Individuals who lost family members while they were jailed complained that the current system is riddled with shortcomings.

“You feel the sheriff’s integrity is under attack,” Lisa Matus — whose son, Richard, died at the Byrd Detention Center in 2022 — told the board.

“What integrity are you talking about? Over and over, we hear how we have a political agenda. When do deaths caused by people in custody become political? Families have waited well over a year for autopsy reports. We’re left with suspicions without the reports. We’re not going to settle for inaction regarding our loved ones.”

The Executive Office report emphasized there are established procedures that generally address many complaints, particularly those relating to in-custody deaths, citing the involvement of the District Attorney’s Office and the county Civil Grand Jury, as well as contract pathologists who aren’t under the direct supervision of sheriff’s personnel.

Whenever an unarmed civilian is killed by a sheriff’s deputy, the case is automatically referred to the California Department of Justice for review.

The report acknowledged that the process of post-mortems and completing death reports can run long, but the goal is to have them available for public review after three months. However, complainants to the board have pointed to reports taking as much as 18 months to reach family of in-custody decedents.

“Barring some major exception, no one should be waiting a year to find out how a loved one died,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said. “That’s being antagonistic to the person who suffered the loss. When somebody is waiting that long, someone in the department needs to be fired.”

The board voted in favor of the EO recommendation for setting up a “Family Liaison Program,” staffed by sheriff’s officials whose focus will be facilitating family members’ needs following an in-custody death.

“We’re trying to create a better system for all of us,” Supervisor Manuel Perez said. “I look forward to future efforts at refining this.”

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