Snohomish, King counties discuss autopsy authority

Escaped convict Harold McCord Jr. was shot in Snohomish County. He died in a King County hospital.

So when an autopsy needed to be done, it was the King County medical examiner’s job.

Soon, Snohomish County medical examiner Norm Thiersch will be able to decide whether autopsies in similar cases should be done here.

The Snohomish County Council is expected to approve an agreement Wednesday that would allow Thiersch to conduct death investigations when people are fatally injured here, but die in King County.

If the King County Council also approves the agreement, it would end debate about which county could call an inquest under those circumstances.

McCord’s death at a Seattle hospital, after he’d been shot during a police raid in Monroe in June 2003, triggered a court battle to answer that question.

King County Executive Ron Sims ordered an inquest in November, with the support of then-Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel. The official review of McCord’s death, held in a King County courtroom, found that officers were justified in shooting McCord.

Had the medical examiner agreement been in place when McCord died, Thiersch could have conducted McCord’s autopsy. It then would have been up to him to decide whether to hold an inquest.

Although people seriously injured in Snohomish County often are rushed to Seattle trauma hospitals, the agreement would only be used in a handful of cases every year, Thiersch said.

“For the most part it would be for criminal cases, for homicides,” Thiersch said.

“It would provide more efficient functioning of this office and law enforcement investigations for this county,” he said.

Thiersch said he proposed a similar agreement several years ago, but King County turned it down.

“More recently, they’ve had a change of heart,” he said. “After the (McCord case) arose, we started hearing more from them about it.”

Under the agreement, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office would notify Thiersch if someone who was hurt here died in King County.

Thiersch would then decide if he wanted to conduct the death investigation. If not, King County would perform the autopsy.

“We do think it’s a beneficial arrangement for King County,” said James Apa, a spokesman for Public Health – Seattle and King County. “The McCord case highlighted the jurisdictional challenge,” he said.

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or schiffner@heraldnet.com.

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