Coroner’s duties wider than most think

By Cyndi Sellers

The duties of the Parish Coroner are wider than most people think, as Cameron Parish Coroner Dr. Kevin Dupke explained to the Police Jury on Thursday.

Louisiana law gives the coroner the responsibility of determining cause of death and issuing death certificates as everyone knows, but the coroner is also responsible for investigating sexual assaults, ordering protective custody and determining competence. The coroner is a peace officer, allowed to investigate, arrest, and carry a firearm.

To carry out these duties, the Police Jury is responsible for providing “all necessary and unavoidable expenses” where certified by the coroner. The coroner’s salary is set by state law and paid by the Police Jury.

Dr. Dupke asked the jurors for a signed agreement to meet his expenses, citing the law that says he and the Jury must “agree” on these expenses. Jury President Sonny McGee asked for a schedule of fees for usual expenses, such as autopsies, DNA tests, and crime lab tests, but since these are provided by outside vendors they cannot be known in advance, said Assistant District Attorney Max Guthrie. Such tests account for 30 percent of the coroner’s budget.

McGee said, and Guthrie agrees, that there already exists a mutual agreement to pay for the expenses of the office, and there is no need for a signed memorandum of understanding or cooperative endeavor agreement. State law does not specify a signed agreement. Dr. Dupke then said if the Jury wants to continue the current arrangement, which has been working for decades, it is okay with him.