firefighter

Forensic Video Production

Video CameraIn most cases it’s as much, or more, about the technique than the equipment when it comes to crime  scene videography. Forensic video production is valuable for showing an overview of the crime scene and should be considered in major cases. While video cannot replace still photographs due to its lower resolution, video does provide an easily understandable viewing medium that shows the layout of the crime scene and the location of evidence. Videos of crime scenes are not often used in court, but they are valuable illustrations for explaining the scene to other investigators and are often used to refresh the memory of those who were involved in processing the crime scene.

Crime scene videotaping techniques

When videoing  crime scenes, you should start the video with a brief introduction presented by an investigator. The introduction should include the date, time, location, type of crime scene, and any other important introductory information. The introduction should also include a brief description of the rooms and evidence that will be viewed in the video. The investigator may want to display a basic diagram as an illustration during the introduction.

Following the introduction the recording is paused and the microphone is turned off. This will prevent any distracting sounds from recording on the video  during the recording of the scene. Begin videoing the crime scene with a general overview of the scene and surrounding area. Continue throughout the scene using wide angle and close up views to show the layout of the scene, location of evidence, and the relevance of evidence within the crime scene. While videoing, use slow camera movements such as panning, and zooming.

In-camera editing is an ideal way to produce crime scene videos. In this method you start and stop the recording at the angles and areas you want. This prevents  distractions and distortion  of moving  around and fast zooming. Editing software can then seamlessly put these clips together for a complete overall video production.

Equipment 

Many departments and agencies can not afford high-end commercial use cameras for forensic video production.  That’s perfectly fine, smaller cameras and even iPhone / iPads can be used to produce high quality video production of your crime scene.  In most cases it’s as much, or more, about the technique than the equipment when it comes to crime  scene videography.

Training 

It is critical  investigators get some training in proper forensic video production techniques. These classes are not offered as much as still photography courses. However, it is critical you find these courses. If courses in this area of crime scene processing are not found in your area then search out those people who produce video for other fields, such as television camera operators and wedding videographers. Techniques and camera familiarization can be learn from these professionals and you can adapt what you need for your use.

Above all – try.  Your first crime scene video may not be of the standards you wish it be be. However, with each time, and practice on non-crime scene shoots, you will improve with each shoot.

Episode Guest 

On this episode of the Coroner Talk™ podcast I talk with Scott Alan Kuntz of  Scott Alan Video LLC.  Scott is an active law enforcement officer and owns his own company helping other agencies in training and consulting work.  More about Scott and how he can help your agency can be found at:

http://www.scottalanvideo.com

 

Questionable convictions in “shaken baby” cases

Shaken BabyThe term “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) was developed to explain those instances in which severe intracranial trauma occurred in the absence of signs of external head trauma. SBS is the severe intentional application of violent force (shaking) in one or more episodes, resulting in intracranial injuries to the child. Physical abuse of children by shaking usually is not an isolated event. Many shaken infants show evidence of previous trauma.

Frequently, the shaking has been preceded by other types of abuse.

Mechanism of Injury

The mechanism of injury in SBS is thought to result from a combination of physical factors, including the proportionately large cranial size of infants, the laxity of their neck muscles, and the vulnerability of their intracranial bridging veins, which is due to the fact that the subarachnoid space (the space between the arachnoid membrane and the pia mater, which are the inner two of the three membranes that cover the brain) are somewhat larger in infants. However, the primary factor is the proportionately large size of the adult relative to the child. Shaking by admitted assailants has produced remarkably similar injury patterns:

  • The infant is held by the chest, facing the assailant, and is shaken violently back and forth.
  • The shaking causes the infant’s head to whip forward and backward from the chest to the back.
  • The infant’s chest is compressed, and the arms and legs move about with a whiplash action.
  • At the completion of the assault, the infant may be limp and either not breathing or breathing shallowly.
  • During the assault, the infant’s head may strike a solid object.
  • After the shaking, the infant may be dropped, thrown, or slammed onto a solid surface.
  • The last two events likely explain the many cases of blunt injury, including skull fractures, found in shaken infants. However, although blunt injury may be seen at autopsy in shaken infants, research data suggest that shaking in and of itself is often sufficient to cause serious intracranial injury or death.

 

 

Questionable convictions in “shaken baby” cases?

Deborah Tuerkheimer is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University and the author of “Flawed Convictions: ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ and the Inertia of Injustice.” She also appears onSaturday’s “48 Hours” investigation into the case of Melissa Calusinski, a former day care provider who says she is wrongfully convicted in a toddler’s death. Here, Tuerkheimer weighs in on questionable convictions in child death cases. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CBS News.

A few months ago, a 55-year-old Florida day care provider became yet another caregiver accused of shaking a toddler to death. The woman, who had worked with children for decades, denied harming the boy. But pediatricians concluded that this was a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

Even before an autopsy was performed, the state charged the woman with murder. She is being held in jail without bond and if convicted, she faces mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Based on the press reports, this case resembles many that I have written about in my book, Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice. Without witnesses or external signs of abuse, the classic diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome rests on three neurological symptoms, otherwise known as the “triad”: bleeding beneath the outermost layer of the brain, retinal bleeding, and brain swelling.

These symptoms are said to prove that a baby was violently shaken and, what’s more, to identify the abuser– whoever was present when the child was last lucid. Shaken Baby Syndrome is, in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder. In order to convict, prosecutors must rely entirely on the claims of science.

But the science has shifted. In recent years, there has been a growing consensus among experts that the neurological symptoms once viewed as conclusive evidence of abuse may well have natural causes, and that old brain injuries can re-bleed upon little or no impact.

In short, current science raises significant questions about the guilt of many caregivers convicted of shaking babies.

Reflecting real movement in the direction of doubt, this past spring, a federal judge in Chicago issued a ruling of “actual innocence” in the case of Jennifer Del Prete, a caregiver accused of shaking a baby in her care. (My book describes this trial in detail.) Del Prete was able to show that, based on what doctors now know about alternative causes of the triad, no reasonable jury could possibly find Del Prete guilty of murder. Indeed, according to the reviewing judge, a lack of evidentiary support for the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome means that the diagnosis is arguably “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

Our legal system has been slow to absorb this new reality. As a consequence, innocent parents and caregivers remain incarcerated and, perhaps more inexplicably, prosecutions based solely on the “triad” symptoms continue even to this day. The cautionary tale of Shaken Baby Syndrome shows that our system is too inclined to stay the course, and awful injustices can result.

Pt 2 The Suicide Plan – Investigating Planned Suicides

SuicideThe assisted suicide movement is, if anything, indefatigable. Not only is it undeterred by its failures, but it is now more energized than any other time in recent years. By the end of March of 2015, bills were introduced in twenty-five state legislatures to legalize assisted suicide.

Defining the Subject

Many people remain confused about the exact nature of assisted suicide advocacy, sometimes confusing it with other medical issues involving end-of-life care. Thus, to fully understand the subject, we must distinguish between ethical choices at the end of life that may lead to death and the poison of euthanasia/assisted suicide.

1.      Refusing unwanted medical treatment is not assisted suicide: Fear of being “hooked up to machines” when one wishes to die at home has traditionally been a driving force behind the assisted suicide movement. But we all have the right to refuse medical interventions—even if the choice is likely to lead to death. Thus, a cancer patient can reject chemotherapy and a patient dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease can say no to a respirator.  Indeed, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the right to refuse medical treatment is completely different from assisted suicide.[9]

2.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia is not the same as medical treatment for pain control: Because pain control may require strong drugs, which can cause death, assisted suicide advocates often claim that palliation and euthanasia are ethically the same under the “principle of double effect.” But this is all wrong:

  • Any legitimate medical treatment can unintentionally lead to death, including pain alleviation. In assisted suicide death is the intended effect.
  • We would never say that a patient who died during open heart surgery was euthanized. Similarly, a patient who dies from the unintended side effects of pain control has not been assisted in suicide or euthanized.
  • Pain control experts state that aggressive pain control generally does not shorten life.

3.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia is antithetical to hospice: Hospice was founded by the great medical humanitarian Dame Cicely Saunders in the late 1960s as a reform movement to bring the care of the dying out of isolated hospitals and into patients’ homes or non-institutional local care facilities. Its purpose is to provide dying people with proper treatment of pain and other disturbing symptoms as well as to render spiritual, psychological, and social support toward the end that life be lived as fully as possible until natural death.

In contrast, assisted suicide is about rushing death, making it happen sooner rather than later through lethal actions. Or to put it another way: Hospice is about living. Assisted suicide/euthanasia is about dying. As the noted palliative care expert and assisted suicide opponent Dr. Ira Byock has written, “There’s a distinction between alleviating suffering and eliminating the sufferer — between enabling someone to die gently of their disease and ending that person’s life with a lethal pill or injection.”

4.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia are acts that intentionally end life: In contrast to the above, the intended purpose of assisted suicide and euthanasia is to end life, e.g., to kill. In assisted suicide, the last act causing death is taken by the person who dies, for example, ingesting a lethal prescription of barbiturates. In euthanasia, the death is a homicide, an act of killing taken by a third person, such as a doctor injecting a patient with poisonous drugs.

From an Investigators Standpoint 

With the above statements we can see that the topic of assisted suicide is at best conversional.  As a death investigator, our job is simple; to report the facts and the facts only.  However, it is well understood that our own emotions and bias on the topic can and will play a role in how we approached these scenes. The investigators must guard against allowing these personal feelings to interfere with the proper reporting and interpretation of  the scene.

Conversation with Prosecuting Attorney 

It is  a good suggestion to have a conversation with your  prosecuting attorney and a review of your agency policy to see how best to proceed in these cases. You should always report all facts in the case, but having a better understanding of how you are expected to proceed may well help in your overall review of the case.

With Family

No matter what decision  your Prosecuting Attorney goes, some members of the deceased family will invariably not agree with the decision.  This is why it best to do a proper and complete investigation, report all and only, the facts – and let those responsible for making these critical decision do their job. You, as the investigator , can rest in the knowledge that you have done your job and can properly explain to the family exactly what took place and why decision  are made based upon these facts.  Many family members may still not agree with the outcome, but it is much better for them to have the facts than them come up with their own set of “facts’ as they see it.

Anita Brook-corner talk-secondary stressAnita Brooks    anitabrooks.com

Dr. Judy Melinek – Working Stiff

Melinek-Slide_0A   forensic pathologist can not work in a vacuum, they must have critical information gathered at the scene by qualified investigators. It is only with this information and the results of the autopsy that a ruling can be made.  It is often that a ruling will be delayed, or no determination made at all, without this information and investigation by the medicolegal investigators.

In this episode I talk with Dr. Judy Melinek, and forensic pathologist working with the Alameda County Coroners Office and and private consultant at  Pathology Expert .com.   We discuss what investigators need to provide to a pathologist to help in the determination of cause and manner of death.  We also discuss her role in the 9/11 attacks as she was working in New York City at the time and witnessed the first plane hit.

Dr. Melinek, along with her husband TJ – wrote the book Working Stiff that chronicle her first two years as a forensic pathologist  and her work in New York City Medical Examiners Office during the 9/11 attacks.

 

Working-stiffThe fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases—hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex—that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation—performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.

Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies—and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law & Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.

About the Authors

tj-mitchell-dr-judy-melinekJudy Melinek, M.D. is a graduate of Harvard University. She trained at UCLA in medicine and pathology, graduating in 1996. Her training at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York is the subject of her memoir, Working Stiff, which she co-wrote with her husband. Currently, Dr. Melinek is an Associate Clinical Professor at UCSF, and works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland. She also travels nationally and internationally to lecture on anatomic and forensic pathology and she has been consulted as a forensic expert in many high-profile legal cases, as well as for the television shows E.R. and Mythbusters.

T.J. Mitchell, her husband, graduated with an English degree from Harvard and has worked as a screenwriter’s assistant and script editor since 1991. He is a writer and stay-at-home Dad raising their three children in San Francisco. Working Stiff is his first book.

Interviewing Children of Homicide

Interviewing Children
GENERALLY ACCEPTED GUIDELINES

1. Avoid bias; explore alternative hypotheses or explanations

The most important thing for a child interviewer to do to obtain a reliable statement from the child is to have no preconceived belief as to what happened. The approach should be one of hypothesis-testing. Unfortunately, many interviewers try to get the child to say things which confirm what they already think happened. The importance of avoiding bias and taking a hypothesis-testing approach is basic and is specifically addressed by most of the articles that discuss interviewing guidelines. For example, Ceci and Bruck (2) note that “Interviewer bias influences the entire architecture of interviews and is revealed through a number of different component features that are highly suggestive” (p. 80). If the interviewer has a preconceived belief about what happened, he or she is likely to ask questions and get answers that confirm this belief. A number of classic studies in social psychology demonstrate the powerful effect of preconceived beliefs on information an interviewer or experimenter gets (30, 31, 32). Several recent studies show the effects of interviewer bias on the accuracy of statements made by children in interviews (2, 33, 34) as well as in other situations
(35).

To avoid biasing the interview, the interviewer must explore alternative hypotheses. One is that the abuse occurred as alleged. But there are other possibilities. In general, alternative hypotheses often include the following (these are not exhaustive, but are offered as examples):

The allegations are basically valid, but the child has substituted a different person for the perpetrator.

Some of the allegations are valid, but the child has invented or been influenced to make additional allegations that are false.

  •  The child misperceived innocuous or inappropriate but non-abusive behaviors as sexual abuse.
  •  The child has been influenced or pressured to make a completely false allegation to serve the needs of someone else.
  •  The child has made a false allegation for personal motives of revenge, gain, to show off to a peer, or to help someone else.
  •  The child has fantasized the allegations, possibly because of psychological problems.
  •  The child initially made up the allegations but has talked to several people about them and they have now become real to the child.
  • The child saw pornographic magazines and pictures, saw a pornographic movie, or observed adults engaged in sexual activities, and this contributed to the allegations she later made.
  •  The child engaged in sex play with peers or siblings, and then accused an adult.
  • The child was questioned repeatedly by adults who believed the child had been abused, and the child began making statements to please the adult, who then reinforced the child with attention or praise.
2. Videotape (or at least audiotape) all investigatory interviews

There is a strong consensus that forensic interviews of child witnesses should be videotaped, or at least audiotaped. Only electronic recording can ensure an accurate record of the interview. Without a tape, there is no way to know just what was said by the interviewer to elicit a response from the child. There is no way to know just what the child said. There is no way to determine whether the child’s statements are the result of a leading, coercive, and contaminating interview rather than the child’s account from his or her own memory and personal knowledge. There are no good reasons for not taping an investigatory interview of a child witness and many compelling reasons for doing so (36-41).

Even experienced interviewers are unable to accurately recall their specific, verbatim questions and the child’s answers that are necessary for evaluating an interview (42). This includes times when they take verbatim notes during the interview (38). Reports based upon the recollections of interviewers are likely to be inaccurate and underestimate the degree to which they used closed and leading questions as opposed to open-ended prompts. When there are no tapes of an interview, there is no way to know the extent to which a child’s statements are in response to leading and suggestive questioning. If it is impossible to videotape the interview (for example. a police officer must take a statement at the child’s house), it can be easily audiotaped.

3. Interview the child alone

The child should be interviewed alone unless he or she is too young to separate from the parent. A parent or other supportive adult sitting in on the interview can either intentionally or inadvertently cue the child and contaminate the interview. The only exception to this is when a very young child refuses to separate from a parent. But this is not desirable and in such cases the parent should be cautioned not to participate in the interview or cue the child in any way. Also, following the rapport phase of the interview, if the child seems comfortable, the interviewer can ask the child if the parent can leave and wait nearby.

There should also be only one interviewer. To the extent that the child perceives pressure to say what she thinks the interviewer expects to hear, more than one interviewer will increase this perceived pressure. Also, children are more likely to go along with what they believe an interviewer expects if the interviewer is identified as an authority figure (2). I have seen tapes of interviews with as many as four or five adults present in the interview, including police officers in uniform wearing guns. If it is considered necessary for a team to be jointly involved in the interview (such as a social worker from child protective services and a police officer), the team can discuss in advance what topics need to be addressed and then only one person interview the child. The other person can observe the interview through a one-way glass mirror and there can be an opportunity to consult before the interview is over.

4. Have a rapport building phase at the beginning

There should be a rapport building phase at the beginning of the interview. One purpose of this part of the interview is to talk about neutral topics and help the child become more comfortable. But it is also to encourage and teach the child to give information to the interviewer. The interviewer should avoid asking a series of closed and forced choice questions during this phase of the interview.

Such questions tell the child that this is like school where there are right and wrong answers and the teacher knows the right answer and is testing the child to see if the child also knows. Adults routinely test children by asking them questions to which the adult already knows the answer and children are not accustomed to being questioned by authoritative adults when only they have the information and the adult does not.

But in investigative interviews, the child is the source of novel information. Therefore the interviewer must let the child know from the beginning that only he or she has the answers. The interviewer must explain the child’s role, motivate the child to give detailed and complete accounts of events they have experienced, emphasize the importance of telling only about true events that actually happened, and encourage the child to correct inaccurate statements made by the interviewers (43). This is best accomplished by beginning the interview with open questions where the interviewer clearly does not have the information.

5. Have a practice interview

During the rapport phase there should be one or more practice interviews where the child is asked open questions about neutral topics, such their last birthday party or the first day of school, and encouraged to give detailed narrative answers. These practice interviews allow the interviewer to gauge the child’s memory and ability to describe past events. They also allow the child to practice giving information in response to open, nonleading questions. Research indicates that interviewers get better information from children when they begin with such practice interviews (43). Children who have the opportunity to practice giving lengthy narrative responses to open-ended questions in the rapport phase continue this behavior in the substantive part of the
interview.

6. Provide ground rules

Young children have a tendency to try to answer any question an adult asks and may provide answers to unanswerable questions such as “Is milk bigger than water?” or “Is red heavier than yellow?” (44). Therefore, child interviews should begin with ground rules that include telling the child the interviewer doesn’t know the answers and that it is all right for the child to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember,” and that the child should correct the interviewer if she says something wrong. It helps if the interviewer practices the ground rules by asking an unanswerable question (e.g., “What is the name of my cat?”) and praising the child when he or she says, “I don’t know.” The interviewer can also deliberately get information wrong (e.g., “You said you have a younger sister and an older brother” when the child has two brothers) and then reinforce the child for correcting the interviewer.

Examples of ground rules include:

  • I wasn’t there and I don’t know what happened. Please tell me everything you can remember.
  • It’s all right to say “I don’t know” if you don’t know the answer: Please don’t guess.
  •  If you cannot remember everything, that’s okay. It’s all right to say “I don’t remember.”
  • If I misunderstand something you say, please tell me. I want to understand everything you say.
  •  If I get something wrong, please correct me.
  • It’s important to only talk: about things that really happened. We don’t talk about make believe or pretend.
  • If you don’t understand something I say, please tell me and I will try to say it using different words.
7. Ask open questions and encourage a free narrative from the child

The most reliable and forensically useful information from children is obtained by encouraging the child to give a free narrative of the alleged events and by asking a series of open, nonleading questions (e.g., who?, what?, when?) or asking the child to “tell me everything you remember about …” The research evidence is clear: freely recalled information is more likely to be accurate than information obtained in response to yes/no and forced choice questions. Consequently, all of the articles discussing guidelines for child forensic interviews make this recommendation. Even children as young as four can provide substantial amounts of forensically relevant information in response to free-recall prompts (45). This means that interviewers do not have to rely on forced choice and yes/no questions even with preschoolers.

The substantive portion of the interview should be also introduced in as open a way as possible. The NICDH investigative interview protocol gives detailed examples of how to progressively phrase such beginning questions (16) and how to continue the interview using open-ended prompts. Some examples of how to use open-ended probes to introduce the topic of the interview include:

  • Do you know why you came here to talk to me today?
  • Now that I know you a little better, I want to talk about why you are here today.
  • Tell me why you came to talk to me.
  • I understand some things have been happening in your family. Tell me about them.

Whenever the child gives response that is on track, the interviewer should encourage a narrative response by asking, “Tell me everything you can remember about that.” When the child pauses, the interviewer should follow up with additional open-ended prompts such as, “And then what happened?,” “Tell me more about that.” Such open questions should constitute as much of the questioning as possible. Interviewers can ask the child to repeat something that wasn’t clear or encourage the child to continue the narrative by repeating a phrase, but they should never interrupt the child to redirect the interview or to ask specific questions. Only when it is clear that the child is not going to provide additional information in response to the open-ended prompts should the interviewer turn to specific questions.

8. Pair specific questions with opened-ended prompts

After obtaining as much information as possible with open questions, interviewers may need to ask specific questions to address important areas that have not been mentioned by the child. When this is necessary, it should be later in the interview; such questions should not be asked at the beginning. But it is a common error for interviewers to ask specific questions rather than encouraging narrative responses (23, 46, 47). When a more specific question must later be asked, it should be paired with an open question. For example, if the child is asked if his clothes were on or off and says, “Off,” the interviewer could then say, “Tell me everything about how they got off” If the interviewer asks if anything happened in the bedroom and the child says, “Yes” the interviewer can then say, “Tell me everything that happened there.” The risk of getting inaccurate information from such closed questions can be minimized if they are paired with an open-ended prompt.

9. Avoid pressure, coercion, suggestion through giving the child information, asking leading questions, and repeating questions

Although open-ended questions can be repeated without contaminating the child’s statements, interviewers should avoid repeating specific, closed, and yes-no questions. When children are asked the same question repeatedly, they can change their answers to conform to what they think the interviewer wants to hear (2, 3, 48).

Interviewers should never ask suggestive questions which provide information about allegations. The general principle is that the interviewer shouldn’t ask a question about something unless the child has already brought it up. Obviously, pressure and coercion should never be used. All the guidelines warn against this. But in practice, many interviews are leading and suggestive (see 2 and 49 for transcripts of suggestive interviews). Even with the attention paid to the importance of avoiding contaminating interviewing techniques, this remains a problem (23). I regularly review videotapes that include closed, forced choice, and leading and suggestive questions with few open-ended prompts.

10. Avoid play, fantasy, and imagining

The interviewer should avoid using such terms as “pretend” or “imagine” or engage in imaginative play as part of the interview. False disclosures of abuse can sometimes occur in response to techniques involving fantasy, imagery, visualization and reenactment during play (24). Guided imagery techniques can be particularly suggestive and can lead to the child confusing an imagined event for something that really happened. Techniques such as having puppets talk to each other, as were used in the McMartin preschool case, should be avoided.

11. Avoid reinforcing specific responses

Social reinforcement can have a powerful effect on behavior and interviewers should never selectively reinforce specific responses. Research shows that such reinforcement during interviews can readily elicit false allegations of wrongdoing from children (50, 51). Wood and Garven (25) note that several types of interviewer behavior are forms of selective reinforcement or punishment that can contaminate interviews, including:

  • Praising the child for making allegations
  • Implying that the child is being helpful or showing intelligence by making allegations
  • Criticizing the child’s statements by suggesting they are wrong or inadequate
  • Giving tangible rewards such as food following disclosures

Limiting the child’s mobility (e.g., letting the child go to the bathroom or terminating the interview) until the child has talked about the topic of interest to the interviewer
Although it is important to create a warm and supportive environment, all such selective reinforcement of the child’s responses must be carefully avoided.

CONTROVERSIAL TECHNIQUES

There is no research supporting the use of anatomical drawings where body parts are named, and these are not generally recommended as part of an interview protocol. There is an indication that such drawings may decrease the reliability of the information obtained (52). When used at the beginning of the interview, the anatomical drawings may communicate to the child that what is to be discussed is body parts and touching. They may confuse very young children who don’t understand that a drawing of a naked body has an abstract relationship to an actual person (53). The drawings should not be necessary with older children. I recently reviewed a taped interview in which the interviewer showed anatomical drawings to a 13-year-old girl of normal intelligence and then asked if she were a girl or a boy. Since interviewers should encourage a child to perform at as a mature and effective level as possible, beginning the interview by asking a teenager such a question detracts from the serious purpose of the interview.

There are similar criticisms about discussions of good touch / bad touch. Guidelines on how to conduct forensic interviews of children do not mention beginning the interview with good touch – bad touch discussions. Wood, McClure, and Birch (26) observe that agencies continue to use the good touch / bad touch discussion for no particular reason other than they had been doing it for years. I continue to see good touch / bad touch discussions in tapes I review. I am unaware of any research supporting this procedure. What it risks is telling the child from the beginning that the purpose of the interview is to talk about genital touching.

Most guidelines do not recommend using anatomical dolls. The few that do caution how they are to be used (e.g., 7, 9, 10, 27, 28). Yuille, et al., (28) note that they should be used only as a last resort and Carnes et al. (9) state that they should be used with “caution” and “only when absolutely needed.” But there are often problems with the way the dolls are used by practitioners in the field (54). In addition, very young children cannot use dolls as symbols or representations for themselves, and make more errors when using the dolls (55). Wolfner, Faust, and Dawes (56) critique the dolls and their failure to add incremental validity to the interview. Many professionals oppose their use. The conclusion, therefore, is that the dolls are controversial and not generally accepted in the scientific community (57, 58). There is no evidence that they add to the completeness and accuracy of the information obtained and they are susceptible to increasing the suggestiveness of the interview.

INTERVIEWS IN THE FIELD

There is now a clear consensus in the professional community as to how children should be interviewed. But this hasn’t always translated to workers in the field. For example, estimates of the frequency of the use of leading questions that introduce information to children vary from 13% to 60% with the majority in the 40% to 50% range (59).

In 1990 Underwager and Wakefield (49) reported on an analysis of 36 actual cases involving 150 interviews and 62 interviewers. The interviewers didn’t encourage free recall; instead they relied on closed questions, pressure, and suggestion and they appeared to be trying to substantiate abuse they had already concluded was real.

In 1996 Warren et al. (23) looked at 42 transcripts of sexual abuse interviews conducted by child protective services personnel and found that the interviewers failed to follow practices recommended by researchers on children’s testimony. The interviewers rarely conducted practice interviews, seldom provided ground rules, and failed to begin with open-ended questions, instead relying on specific, yes-no questions throughout. They frequently introduced new material not previously disclosed by the children. That same year Lamb et al. (60) reported on their examination of 22 audiotaped interviews from 12 field interviewers in Israel. Most questions were directive rather than open-ended, and many were leading.

In 2004 Gilstrap (59) examined 80 interviews conducted by 41 field interviewers with 40 children ages 3 to 7 about staged events. She compared the behavior of these real world interviewers to the types of questions studied in research settings. She found that the field interviewers asked a substantial amount of leading questions (42%) and that approximately one-third of the leading questions introduced inaccurate information. The field interviewers repeated questions 12% of the time and introduced novel information 18% of the time.

Saywitz and Geiselman (61) observe that interviewing guidelines designed to maximize the completeness of children’s reports are not always based on the realities of work conditions on the front lines. A problem for workers in the field is that although young children’s spontaneous descriptions of past events are accurate, their descriptions are often too incomplete to be useful. Important legal decisions cannot be made without more information. Although field workers can gather additional information with more questions, their methods risk undermining the accuracy of the children’s statements. Saywitz and Geiselman have therefore developed approaches specifically geared to field workers to elicit more complete and consistent accounts from children. These approaches, narrative elaboration, and cognitive interviewing, are based on research in their laboratories and appear to be a promising way for field interviewers to get more complete but accurate information from young children. Researchers from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have also reported on field studies of their interview protocol (NICHD protocol) which demonstrate that with their protocol even young children can provide a substantial amount of forensically relevant and accurate information in response to free-recall prompts (12, 16, 45, 46, 47).

CONCLUSIONS

Research over the last several years dramatically demonstrates the importance of properly interviewing child witnesses. Interviewers with preexisting biases who ask leading, suggestive, questions risk confirming their beliefs and getting false information. There is now a clear consensus in the scientific community about how children must be interviewed in order to get accurate, uncontaminated, forensically useful information. Unfortunately, field interviewers aren’t using these techniques. Instead, they readily slip into undesirable behaviors that risk compromising the integrity of the interview and the reliability of the information the child gives them.

Article Reprint:

Guidelines on Investigatory Interviewing of Children: What is the Consensus in the Scientific Community?

Hollida Wakefield*

American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 24(3), 57-74

 

Practical Cultural Guidelines For Death Investigators

globe [Converted]Culture includes the beliefs, customs, and arts of a particular society, group, or place. How people respond to issues of death or dying is directly related to their cultural backgrounds. Anyone who works with families should be sensitive to their culture, ethnic, religious, and language diversity.

10 Practical Guidelines

  1. » Allow families to grieve the loss of their loved one in their customary ways.
  2. » Recognize that grief and loss may be expressed differently across cultures.
  3. » Use an interpreter when necessary to avoid miscommunication.
  4. » Identify important ethnic or faith leaders in the community and ask them about what support is available for families.
  5. » Avoid personal contact such as hugging or touching unless invited.
  6. » Carefully consider the words you use when speaking with family members about their loss.
  7. » Respond to family requests in a respectful and sensitive manner.
  8. » Avoid answering questions such as “why?”
  9. » Be conscious of the volume of your voice.
  10. » If you are entering a home, be conscious of your shoes.

 

Full Downloadable Guideline

small_right_arrowculture_guide_unexpected_death (2)

 


 

Training Room Ad Link

Designed just for you. Get full access to ongoing video training modules, monthly roundtable discussions, and articles not open to the public. Training and courses designed by and for the death investigation community.


darrendake

 New Book – Get your copy now !   Click the Book to Learn more…….

Professionalism – Respect is Earned Not Granted

What's the problem?!If you want to be seen as a professional, you must present a professional image and attitude that will command respect.   You WILL NOT get the respect you need simply by your title. Respect is earned not granted.    There has been a long history of perceived and actual unprofessionalism in the Coroner industry. This has spilled over into Medical Examiners office and police agencies as well.  But by and large many coroners struggle with being accepted as a professional.   Is it industry bias, or a reality of the image the coroner is projecting?

Five Areas You Must Address

1. Need for written policy

  •     All staff from top down
  •     Procedures for all to follow
  •        Victim families
  •        Property
  •        Report dealines 

2. Attitude of cooperation

  •    With co-workers
  •    Other Agencies    Stop power pulls
  •    Interactions with families        

3. Office Organization

  •   Office area appearance
  •   Filing
  •    Reporting
  •    Returning messages   Voice and Email

4. Dress code standards

  •    At office / morgue
  •    On scenes
  •            Proper Dress    Proper Id on clothing
  •     On duty and in public
  •             This includes automobiles
  •                   Is it marked
  •                   Even Magnetic logos
  •                   What type of vehicle

5. Training    

  •       How trained are you    
  •      Can you talk and understand the field
  •      Your responsibility  to get it
  •               This podcast
  •               Reading
  •               Courses     local Sheriff Office
  •               ABMDI
  •               Use your ME


Featured Podcasts

FFTBco_Final_300x300 (1)

 

http://firefightertoolbox.com/

 

 

 

Podcast Art (1)

http://firefightertrainingpodcast.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Click the Image to Learn More

Coroner Talk Training Room

Designed just for you. Get full access to ongoing video training modules, monthly roundtable discussions, and articles not open to the public.

Training and courses designed by and for the death investigation community.

Training Room Ad Link

Click the book to learn more

darrendake

First on the Scene – Advance Responders

Medicolegal Death Investigation Overview for First Responders
Paul R. Parker III, B.S., D-ABMDI

First RespondersPolice officers, sheriff deputies, firefighters, and EMS personnel play a critical role in medicolegal death investigations. As “first responders,” the majority of time they are, in fact, the first officials at the scene in which a death or the incident ultimately resulting in death occurs. What they see, smell, hear, do, and document are critical pieces of information required for medicolegal death investigators (MDI) to accurately write the last chapter of someone’s life story.

First responders frequently interact with Medical Examiner/Coroner (ME/C) personnel either telephonically when reporting a death or in-person while at the scene after the MDI’s arrival. Despite the frequency of interaction, oftentimes there is confusion about the ME/C role and responsibilities. When reporting a death to the ME/C, have you said, “We have a pick up for you?” How many times have you said or heard someone say, “Why isn’t this a Coroner’s case?” or “Why isn’t the Medical Examiner responding?” or “What am I supposed to do with this body now?” or “Why is the Coroner asking me so many questions? Why don’t they just come out here and pick up this body?” or “Can you believe they want me to count the oxycodone pills? Can’t they come out and count them themselves?” or “What’s taking the Coroner so long to get here?” or “Why is the Medical Examiner upset that we towed the vehicles/removed the firearm from the scene prior to their arrival?”

This podcast provides all first responders an overview of medicolegal death investigation offices, functions, and jurisdiction; expectations when interacting with ME/C personnel, both during the death report and scene investigation; and a brief discussion of scene and body indicators of various types, causes, and manners of death.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Paul R. Parker III,   B.S., D-ABMDI

Parker Medicolegal Services, LLC

P.O. Box 20525

Fountain Hills, Arizona 85269

Telephone: 480-298-4981

Website: www.ParkerMLS.com

Email: Paul@ParkerMLS.com

What Are Autoerotic Deaths – (and what they are not)

Autoerotic Death

Autoerotic deaths are accidental deaths that occur during solitary sexual activity in which some type of apparatus that was used to enhance the sexual stimulation of the deceased caused the unintentional death.

These deaths are accidental, they are not suicides as some have thought. The practitioner does not intend to die as a result of this activity, but instead, dies as a result of an overdoes of asphyxiation or a failure in the mechanism of pleasure induced by the victim.

Autoerotic deaths come in many forms and are not just from an asphyxial hanging, although asphyxia is the most common.

These deaths can also occur as a result of:

Ligature Compression of the Neck
Airway Obstruction
Chest Compression
Chemicals or Gases
Electrical Stimulation
Foreign Body Insert into Penis or Anus

By its very definition these acts are solitary. Some have proposed that when an accidental death occurs during a sexual act between two people, where the airway was obstructed or blood flow was restricted during the sexual act, should be considered an autoerotic death. However, those deaths may be accidental but not autoerotic. Auto is defined as self, one’s own, or by oneself. Although monoerotic might be a better description, auto is still the appropriate terminology.

In terms of the type of apparatus used. Some mechanism; whether ligature, mechanical, or manual has to be in use as a way to enhance the sexual stimulation and arousal of the practitioner.

Some investigators find it hard to believe that these acts are in any way sexually gratifying. This practice is very much a paraphilia act, and performed by a very slim majority of the population. It is important however to keep in mind that there are three general sources of sexual pleasure.

1. Stimulation of the genital organs .
2. Lack of oxygen to the central nervous system.Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 08.11.32
3. The creation of a fear and anguish atmosphere.

Generally when a person first starts engaging in these acts, asphyxia or other mechanism are used in combination with masturbation or sexual intercourse. However, intercourse would rule out autoerotic by definition, but over time the need to masturbate will decrease and the asphyxia itself becomes the sexual activity.

It is important to understand that the evidence of masturbation during the fatal event is not mandatory . Quite the opposite actually, it is rare to find such evidence. It is common for the practitioner to use autoerotic stimulation as a means of sexual arousal and then masturbate to climax after having gained an erection and efficient arousal. A form of foreplay, if you will.

Autoerotic fatalities are classified as two types; typical and atypical. Typical deaths means they fit into a set of predetermined standards of accidental deaths as it relates to victimology, method, paraphilia and history. Atypical deaths do not meet these criteria. We will further explore these classifications in later chapters when victimology is addressed..

Lastly, in defining autoerotic deaths you must keep in mind that these are unintentional deaths – not suicide. But exercise extreme caution; you must rule these cases based upon the probability of available evidence.An accurate cause of death is crucial, a point of discussion later in this book. But better to rule a death suicide when a couple of scene features exist, while absolute facts cannot support a definitive

If someone dies during an autoerotic act, or sexual stimulation, as a result of heart attack, stoke, arrhythmia, etc., it is not an autoerotic death. Natural causes must be ruled

Sex and sexual activity can take a toll on the body; changing heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and adrenaline levels. Strenuous activity can be a common cause for heart attacks and strokes.

Remember, an autoerotic death must result in accidental death caused from the apparatus used to increase sexual pleasure. If a person dies as the result of a heart attack during the act of normal masturbation, normal meaning without the use of any aids other than one’s hand, the cause of death would be heart attack. The autoerotic factor would never come into play. The same would be true regardless of dress, activity, or scene features present. Further, if someone dies during a sexual game with a partner, that may very well be an accident, but by its very definition cannot be ruled autoerotic in nature because there was no intent of a solitary act.

Case example. A man in his mid 60’s was found by his wife sitting in a chair wearing only women’s shoes and a bra. A vacuum cleaner was nearby and in operation. The man’s penis was still inside the vacuum hose as it was apparent he was using it to aid in his masturbation. The medical examiner found the cause of death to be heart attack. So even though some of the scene features present are common with autoerotic deaths, and it was obvious that autoerotic activity was taking place, this was a natural causes death because the apparatus used, vacuum cleaner, did not cause the death due to a malfunction of its intended use for sexual pleasure.

Determining Time of Death

Garry RodgersDefining Time of Death   
There are several times of death. Let me repeat that—there are several times of death. Time of death seems to be a simple and straightforward term that obviously means the exact time that the victim drew his last breath. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

There are actually three different times of death:

  • The physiologic time of death, when the victim’s vital functions actually ceased.
  • The legal time of death, the time recorded on the death certificate.
  • The estimated time of death, the time the medical examiner estimates that death occurred.

It is important to note that the estimated time of death can vary greatly from the legal time of death and the physiologic time of death.

The only absolutely accurate determination of the time of death is the uncommon circumstance in which a person died with a physician or other skilled medical professional present. The doctor could make the determination and mark the time, and even this is assuming his watch or the clock on the wall was accurate. But that little inaccuracy aside, a death witnessed in this fashion is the only time that the three above times of death would correlate with one another.

Otherwise, it is impossible to determine the exact time of death. But what if someone witnessed the fatal blow or gunshot or what if the event was recorded on a timed surveillance camera, wouldn’t that accurately mark the time of death? The answer is a qualified yes. If the witnessed event led to immediate death, then the witness would have seen the actual death. If not, the witnessed event is simply the trauma that led to death but not the actual moment of death. People can survive massive and apparently lethal injuries for hours, even days or years.

But most deaths are not witnessed. Natural death may come during sleep, and accidental and suicidal deaths often occur when the victim is alone. In homicides, the perpetrator is typically the only witness and he rarely checks his watch, and even if he did, he’s not likely to talk about it. This means that when the medical examiner must determine the time of death he can only estimate the approximate time.

These times of death may differ by days, weeks, even months, if the body is not found until well after physiologic death has occurred. For example, if a serial killer killed a victim in July, but the body was not discovered until October, the physiologic death took place in July, but the legal death is marked as October, since that is when the corpse was discovered and the death was legally noted. The medical examiner estimated that the time of death could be July, or it could be June or August. It is only an estimate and many factors can conspire to confuse this determination. But, it is critically important for the medical examiner to be as accurate as possible.

The Importance of the Time of Death
An accurate estimation of the time of death can lead to discovering the identity of the assailant. In criminal cases, it can eliminate some suspects while focusing attention on others. For example, a husband says that he left for a business meeting at 2 P.M. and returned at 8 P.M. to find his wife dead. He says that he was home all morning and that she was alive and well when he left. If the ME determines the time of death was between 10 A.M. and noon, the husband has a great deal of explaining to do. On the other hand, if the estimation reveals that the death occurred between 4 and 6 P.M., and the husband has a reliable alibi for that time period, the investigation will move in a different direction.

Notice that in the above example the ME gave a range rather than an exact time for his estimated time of death. He didn’t say 4:30 P.M. but rather said between 4 and 6 P.M. Simply put, that’s the best he can do and that’s why it’s called the estimated time of death. It’s a best guess.

The time of death is not confined to criminal investigations; it can also come into play in civil situations. Insurance payments may depend upon whether the insured individual were alive at the time the policy went into effect or if he died before the policy expired. Even a single day can be important. Likewise, property inheritance can hinge on when the deceased actually died. Suppose two business partners die near the same time. Their contract may read that the company assets go the survivor if one of them dies. In this case, the heirs of the one that died last would own the company assets. Similarly, the dispersal of property under a will might be affected by which partner died first.

Determination of the Time of Death
Determining the time of death is both an art and a science and requires that the medical examiner use several techniques and observations to make his estimate. As a general rule, the sooner after death the body is examined, the more accurate this estimate will be.

Unfortunately, the changes that a body undergoes after death occur in widely variable ways and with unpredictable time frames. There is no single factor that will accurately indicate the time of physiological death. It is always a best guess. But when the principles are properly applied, the medical examiner can often estimate the physiologic time of death with some degree of accuracy.

To help with his estimation, the ME / Coroner utilizes various observations and tests, including:

Body temperature
Rigor mortis
Livor mortis (lividity)
Degree of putrefaction
Stomach contents
Corneal cloudiness
Vitreous potassium level
Insect activity
Scene markers

The most important and most commonly used of these are body temperature, rigor mortis, and lividity. French physician Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne (1843–1924), director of Legal Medicine in Lyon, France, wrote extensively on algor mortis (the temperature of death), rigor mortis (the stiffness of death), and livor mortis (the color of death).

Body Temperature
Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. After death, the body loses or gains heat progressively until it equilibrates with that of the surrounding medium. Since corpse temperature can be easily and quickly obtained (see page XX), the search for a formula that uses this parameter to define the time of death has been sought for years. As early as 1839, English physician John Davey undertook the study of corpse heat loss in London, and as late as 1962, T.K. Marshall and F.E. Hoare attempted to standardize this analysis when they established a computerized mathematical formula known as the Standard Cooling Curve. In the intervening years, and even since Marshall and Hoare, many others have attempted to devise similar schemes. Unfortunately, none of these have proven to be any more accurate than the current formula for heat loss of 1.5 degree per hour.

The formula is:

Hours since death = 98.6 – corpse core temperature / 1.5

This approximate rate of heat loss continues until the environmental temperature is attained, after which it remains stable. That sounds simple enough.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that straight forward. The 1.5-degree-per-hour factor varies, depending upon the environment surrounding the body, the size of the corpse, clothing, and other factors. For example, a body in a temperate room will lose heat much more slowly than will one in an icy, flowing stream. And a body in a hot environment, such as an enclosed garage in Phoenix, Arizona, in August, where the ambient temperature could be 125 degrees Fahrenheit or more, will gain heat. The key is that the corpse will lose or gain heat until it reaches equilibrium with its environment.

The coroner’s technician who processes the corpse at the scene takes a body temperature, and also measures the temperature of the surrounding medium—air, water, snow, or soil (if the body is buried). Ideally, the body temperature is taken either rectally or by measuring the liver temperature, which may be a more accurate reflection of the true core body temperature. This requires making a small incision in the upper right abdomen and passing the thermometer into the tissue of the liver. This should only be done by a trained individual and under the direction of the medical examiner. Care should be taken not to alter or destroy any existing wounds on the body. Some people have suggested measuring the core temperature by inserting the thermometer into a knife wound or gunshot injury to negate the need to make a new incision. This should never be done because the introduction of any foreign object may contaminate or alter the wound, which can be key evidence in the case. For practical reasons, the rectal temperature is usually taken.

The sooner after death the body is found, the more accurately time of death can be assessed by this method. Once the body reaches ambient temperature, all bets are off. But even if done correctly and soon after death, body temperature determination is subject to several sources of inaccuracy.

One assumption made in the calculations is the initial body temperature. The normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is an average and varies from person to person. Some people have higher normal temperatures than others. Women tend to run higher temperatures than do men. Illnesses associated with fevers can markedly elevate the temperature of the person at the time of death, while chronic illness, dehydration, or the presence of prolonged shock may lower initial body temperature. There is also some diurnal (basically morning versus evening) variation in body temperature in most people. All this means that the calculation begins with some degree of error.

A dead body looses heat passively by three distinct mechanisms: radiation (heat lost as infrared heat rays), conduction (heat passed on to any object that contacts the body), and convection (heat lost into the moving air). The state of the corpse and the environmental conditions greatly affect the rate of heat loss.

Obesity, heavy clothing, warm still air, exposure to direct sunlight, and an enclosed environment slow heat loss. Fat and clothing make good insulators, so an obese person in a sweater will lose heat much more slowly than would a thin, unclothed corpse exposed to cold or moving air, water, or shade. Children and the elderly tend to lose heat faster, as do those who are chronically ill or emaciated. If the body is in contact with cold surfaces such as marble or cool concrete, heat loss will be greater.

There’s still one more curve ball: Several days after death, as fly maggots begin to feed on the corpse, their activity and internal metabolic processes can at times raise the temperature of the corpse. This should not be a problem for the forensic investigator, though, because once this insect activity is that far advanced body temperature is no longer of use.

As you can see, heat loss is fraught with inaccuracies. Still, with early and careful measurement of the core body temperature and consideration for the conditions surrounding the corpse, a reasonably accurate estimate can often be made.

Let’s say two people are murdered in a home in Houston, Texas, during late summer. The bodies are discovered four hours after death. One body is left in the garage where the ambient temperature is 110 degrees Fahrenheit, while the other is in the living room where air conditioning holds the temperature at 72. The corpse inside would lose heat at about 1.5 degrees per hour, so that if the medical examiner had evidence that the death had occurred four hours earlier, he would expect to find a core body temperature of approximately 92 to 93 degrees.

1.5 degrees / hour x 4 hours = 6 degrees
98.6 – 6 = 92.6

If he found a different core temperature, he would revise his estimate. But what if the victim were very old or young, thin, unclothed, or lying on a cold tile floor near an air conditioning vent? Under these circumstances, the heat loss would be more rapid. The core temperature could be 88 to 90 degrees, perhaps even less. If the medical examiner failed to consider these mitigating factors, an erroneous estimate of the time of death could result. For example, if the core temperature was 88 degrees and he failed to adjust for the environmental conditions around the body, he could estimate that approximately seven hours had elapsed since death.

98.6 – 88 = 10.6 / 1.5 = 7.1 hours

An estimate of six to eight hours is quite different from an estimate of three to five hours. The killer may have an iron clad alibi for the former time period, and easily could since he hadn’t arrived at the crime scene at that time. He could have been having lunch with twenty people. But only four hours later, he might not have such an alibi.

What of the body in the garage? The ME would expect the corpse to gain heat at the same rate of 1.5 degrees per hour. Thus, the core temperature should be approximately 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or perhaps even higher.

  Time since death: …. Changes observed

1-2 hours: ………Early signs of lividity.

2-5 hours: ………Clear signs of lividity throughout body. Fixed in 6-10 hours

5-7 hours: ………Rigor mortis begins in face.

8-12 hours: …….Rigor mortis established throughout the body, extending to arms and legs

12 hours: ……….Body has cooled to about 25°C internally.

20-24 hours: …..Body has cooled to surrounding temperature.

24 hours: ……….Rigor mortis begins to disappear from the body in  roughly the same order as it appeared.

36 hours: ……….Rigor mortis has completely disappeared.

48 hours: ……….Body discoloration shows that decomposition is beginning.