By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A rush to harvest body parts may be complicating some death investigations, forcing coroners, in some cases, to guess the cause of death, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.

The investigation says dozens of death investigations across the country, including more than two dozen in Los Angeles and San Diego Counties, were upended when transplantable body parts were taken before a coroner’s autopsy was performed.

The Times also reported that coroners across the state secretly worked with organ donation companies to prevent reporters from getting information about murder autopsies that may have been compromised by early organ harvesting.

The Sacramento County Coroner was named in the report.

Autopsy and coroner’s reports are considered public information. But we got our hands on an email chain from a group of organ donation companies, where they talk about helping coroners deny public records requests related to organ donation. The example they used is from one of our colleagues at CBS in Los Angeles.

In the email obtained from the Sacramento County Coroner’s office, the COO of the organ donation company One Legacy admits that they “provided legal language” to the LA County Coroner and “guided them through that process” to deny a public records request from our colleague David Goldstein.

The email was then forwarded to the Sacramento County Coroner to use as a template to deny a request from the LA Times. In the email, the then-executive director of Sierra Donor Services asked, “If LA County redacted records, maybe Sac County can as well?”

The Sacramento County Coroner said she did not ask for this information or use it to deny records. She said she is willing to turn over records if given specific names. But, she said her office is not aware of any cases in Sacramento where organ harvesting interfered with an autopsy.

The LA Times found several cases in Southern California and reports some involved homicide investigations where the coroner had to guess at the cause of death.

Julie Watts

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