Medical Examiner's Office executive fired for weapons policy violation
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Monday, July 23, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY - The deputy chief medical examiner was fired for violating the agency’s policy on violence and weapons in the workplace and reportedly kept a collection of knives in his desk, the Tulsa World has learned.
Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Sibley was fired July 12 for violating a policy prohibiting threats of violence and weapons including guns and knives, according to records released to the Tulsa World on Monday.
Sources told the World that Sibley kept a large collection of knives in his desk at the agency’s Tulsa office, 1115 W. 17th St.
Two other agency officials, Administrative Supervisor Ashley Hancock and Investigator Supervisor Brenda Kelley, were also fired July 12, records show. Hancock and Kelley were fired for violating policies on employee conduct and harassment and discrimination.
Their letters of dismissal, signed by Chief Medical Examiner Eric Pfeifer, define harassment as discrimination based on “sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age or disability.” The letters also define sexual harassment and state that “all individuals are treated with respect and dignity; the agency will not tolerate any form of unlawful harassment of any of its employees.”
The firings are the latest signs of upheaval at the agency, which has been in turmoil for years.
The Medical Examiner’s Office has struggled with losing national accreditation, grand jury probes, scandals, crushing backlogs and personnel turnover.
In May, bodies at the Oklahoma City office were temporarily moved to refrigeration trucks when the office’s decades-old cooler broke down.
The firings prompted one lawmaker to call for increased focus on the agency’s needs.
Sen. Brian Crain, a former Tulsa County prosecutor, said that while attention has been focused on the capital needs of the Medical Examiner’s Office, the firings point to the need for increased operational funding.
“If we want this agency to continue as a necessary and vital part of law enforcement, the Legislature must first recognize that its operations have been underfunded for several years. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to attract and retain qualified forensic pathologists and other skilled personnel,” said Crain, R-Tulsa.
“Secondly, the Legislature must explicitly state our intention to fund this agency at a level sufficient to correct this situation not only for next year but for years to come. Finally, this and future Legislatures must honor this intention.”
Chief Administrative Officer Amy Elliott confirmed reports that Tulsa police provided security for the office after the dismissals. Elliott said she could not comment further on details of the firings.
Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster, who represents Sibley, said Sibley sometimes carried “a little southwestern jackknife” and may have kept a small number of decorative knives in his desk but had never threatened anyone with them.
Brewster said that when Sibley was placed on administrative leave May 29, Pfeifer walked into the Tulsa office flanked by two Tulsa police officers. Brewster said Sibley was giving a talk to a group of employees at the time and that Pfeifer interrupted him, informing Sibley he was on administrative leave but giving no reason.
He said Sibley still has not been informed about the reason for his termination.
“I think he said something unkind about Dr. Pfeifer and he (Pfeifer) carried a grudge to get him fired. ... I can’t imagine that somebody after 12 years of service wouldn’t be given the courtesy of being told what he did. ... The way this guy managed can only be described as cowardly.”
On Friday, the agency withheld letters related to the firings of Sibley and Hancock but released several others following an Open Records Act request by the World.
Elliott said an assistant attorney general advised that the letters should be withheld until a certified mail receipt signed by Sibley and Hancock was returned to the agency.
The letters were released Monday after the World contacted Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, noting that state law contains no such requirement regarding personnel records.
Sibley was hired by the Medical Examiner’s Office in 2000 and was named interim chief medical examiner in 2010. He turned down the top job later that year, saying the offer was “an afterthought out of desperation” by the board that oversees the office.
In 2009, the latest year for which statistics were available, the Medical Examiner's Office reviewed more than 15,000 deaths in Oklahoma. About 10,000 cases were reviewed because the deceased was being cremated or transferred out of state or for similar reasons.
A complete investigation and examination was performed in 5,218 cases, and of those, 1,870 were selected for autopsy. Those cases included homicides, accidental deaths and deaths in which a cause was not readily apparent.
Read the complete story in Tuesday’s Tulsa World.