Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bad Coroner: Port of Call New Orleans

There is a lot to say about this week's gripping series by Frontline, The Times-Picayune, and Pro-Publica, and I wish I had a few hours to go on at length. Unfortunately, I'll have to dart in and out.

If you haven't been keeping up, please get yourself started now.

I don't know exactly what's coming up in this series but I would like to briefly to discuss the race for coroner.

Though it had been assumed for a long time that the longtime incumbent coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard would retire at the end of his term, he has decided to run for reelection. At first, it appeared as though he would be unchallenged but an opponent did surface before the end of qualifying.

Dr. Dwight McKenna has entered the race.

Dr. McKenna was also once an employee of the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office, so he is not an inexperienced candidate. He and his wife, another doctor who was recently involved in a tragic and horrible car accident, are behind the McKenna Museum of African American Art and the New Orleans Tribune.


Minyard came under fire after Katrina for the slow pace at which his office was able to identify victims and for apparently refusing aid that would have bolstered his staff.

Minyard has been on my own radar since I began researching material for this unflattering profile of Police Superintendent Warren Riley. Minyard came up when I was reading about the death of Adolph Archie, who was beaten to death while in custody after he was arrested for the murder of a police officer. You can check out this scanned clipping of the AP story reporting Minyard's new story, this account in Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force pg. 33, or this one from a 1995 New York Times column by Bob Hebert.

He also was a major impediment to A.C. Thompson's exposure of violent racist vigilantism in Algiers Point after the levee failure. From an interview with Thompson:

The lawsuit brought by me and the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund also gobbled up many months. We sued Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard for the right to copy every single autopsy report tied to Hurricane Katrina. All we really wanted were the autopsies documenting shooting victims, but Minyard refused to give us those, saying he couldn't sort them out from all the other autopsies. So we wound up demanding everything, as we were allowed under Louisiana law. We won. And the coroner now owes the Investigative Fund some $10,000 in attorney fees, which he hasn't paid.

Dr. Minyard is 80 years old now. At some point or another, someone else is going to be leading the Coroner's office. I have a hard time thinking of another city that elects its coroners. Are their any? What are the advantages of having the coroner subject to the political process?

Update: Does Dr. Frank Minyard still live in New Orleans anymore?


Papa Bear said...


With that being said, I'm running in 4 years.

Leigh C. said...

Minyard is also one of the people featured in Dan Baum's "Nine Lives". Quite an interesting read.

Anonymous said...

Great so we throw our support behind a convicted felon (McKenna)? I don't like the current coroner either but god help us if Dwight McKenna becomes the coroner. We might as well elect Morris Reed to the City Council too.

Research McKenna, the family, the non-profits, their "organization" first please.

Batt Sucks said...

From Minyard's Myspace:

""If they need someone to point the finger at, that's O.K. with me." Sometimes he views the current challenge as the natural culmination of his life. "This is something that I was just destined to do," he says. Other times, he sounds less certain, as on a recent day when he paid a rare visit to his French Quarter apartment."


(Which someone else apparently set up as a satire on him.)

But seriously..."rare visits" to his French Quarter apartment? Really? Sounds like a lawsuit in the making to knock him off the ballot. Dr. Dwight will pick on this...if he's got the brains.

Jane said...

I'm with Anonymous #1. McKenna is a crook politico on the order of the Jeffersons, who has been involved in stealing from the public school system (when he was on the School Board), Medicaid for kids (when he ran a clinic),and for some of his non-profits, and has been indicted several times. I don't think someone who steals from kids or the poor is going to be an improvement on Minyard. I wish someone else had run.

Clay said...

Minyard want to stop doing autopsies:


Nagin cut too much out of the budget.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he lives in the warehouse district with his new wife. South Peters.

And he did not refuse federal help after Katrina. They refused to help him, leaving bodies on the street for weeks and then refusing to help with the ONE THOUSAND autopsies performed to document Katrina-related deaths.

As for McKenna, I suggest you research how a convicted felon could get himself exempted from the LA law barring felons from holding office. Hint. It involves Edwin Edwards and 25,000 dollar pardons.

Minyard's no saint, but on the balance has helped tens of thousands over his 30+ years as coroner. Him vs McKenna is a no brainer.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I suggest you also look into why McKenna was fired from the coroner's office. Hint #2. He would show up to murder scenes inebriated and disheveled. Even got himself detained by the police at one.

Convicted felon with history of intoxication at crime scenes. Think defense attorneys might bring that up if he becomes coroner?

Anonymous said...

First of this is only the 4th time Dwight has tried to run for Coroner of Orleans. This guy is a big joke. He has tried to run for many gov't position in our city. Including School Broad which is was kicked off of because he a felon. He just wants to be somebody so bad, becuase in his lifetime he has only proven to the world that is is a no body. When he did work for the coroner's office he would show up drink of scenes. More than one time the police had to drive him home and a few times had to threaten to arrested him because he was so agitaed and aggressive. I think he is only running this time to cause headaches, because he has to know that people of our city dislike him and plus he is a felon that spent time in federal prision. Minyard is a Saint compared to this guy!!!!