Thursday, March 18, 2010

State medical examiner arrested

Levy faces marijuana charges in Mississippi By Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • March 18, 2010 The Tennessee state medical examiner's career is in jeopardy and some of his biggest cases under scrutiny after Mississippi investigators uncovered a package of marijuana addressed to him and more of the drug in his hotel room. Mississippi, Tennessee and Metro Nashville suspended contracts for forensic work done by Bruce Levy's two companies after his Tuesday arrest in Ridgeland, Miss., on felony marijuana possession charges. Levy, 49, was due to collect $3.8 million this year from Metro alone through Forensic Medical Management Services. He posted bond Wednesday and retained Nashville attorney David Raybin, who said his client had no comment. Defense attorneys who have encountered Levy wonder what the arrest could mean for his past findings. His most recent high-profile ruling was in the death of 12-week-old foster child Cherokeewolf Deidrich. Levy said his death was due to natural causes after doctors at Vanderbilt's children's hospital said Cherokeewolf's injuries weren't accidental. The foster parents' attorney, Jennifer Thompson, said one of Levy's assistants, not the medical examiner himself, performed the autopsy, even though Levy announced the findings. "When incidents like these come up, it brings into question any medical examiner's credibility," Thompson said. Last year, Levy's office ruled the death of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was a murder-suicide, although Levy didn't perform that autopsy, either. The family of McNair's accused girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, and a former Metro police officer publicly questioned the findings. Nashville defense attorney John Herbison said it would be tough to measure any impact of Levy's arrest before the case is complete. The process of reviewing Levy's medical license hasn't begun. "He's not one of my biggest fans," Herbison said. "But I was really surprised to learn of this." It's too early to say whether the state will review Levy's rulings on autopsies, Tennessee Department of Health spokeswoman Andrea Tur-ner said. Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents arrested Levy at a hotel in Ridgeland after a drug dog sniffed out less than an ounce of marijuana bound for Levy during a search of packages from a courier service, said Jon Kalahar, the agency's spokesman. Agents searched Levy's hotel room and found several more containers of marijuana. The agency didn't release the total amount found. Levy, who was there to testify in a court case, posted $25,000 bond. Controversy follows Levy is president and CEO of Forensic Medical Management Services, drawing a $411,000 salary from the company, Metro officials said. He launched Global Forensics to handle work in Mississippi and started taking cases there more than a year ago. Tennessee had a $237,480, five-year contract with Levy that began July 1, 2007. The state also paid his company $192,000 over that same time for administrative services associated with the medical examiner's office. There were no drug-testing requirements for the state and Metro contracts. In addition to both states suspending contracts with Levy's companies, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean suspended Levy, an appointed official, for 90 days. Under the law, the city council has to vote to remove him. Dean named Dr. Amy McMaster, deputy medical examiner and chief operating officer for Forensic Medical, acting county medical examiner. The state has yet to name an acting medical examiner, but Health Commissioner Susan Cooper said she would do so while working to terminate Levy's contract. Levy was a controversial figure since becoming the Nashville and state medical examiner in 1998. Levy testified against his predecessor, Dr. Charles Harlan, whose medical license was revoked for misconduct. Complaints against Harlan included incomplete examinations, botched conclusions and bizarre personal behavior that included storing body parts in his laundry room. Several people complained about Levy after their dead relatives' autopsies were videotaped for the cable TV program True Stories from the Morgue. Prosecutors were critical as well. The network pulled unaired shows, but in 2005, jurors awarded an elderly widow $200,000 after she sued, claiming her husband's autopsy was recorded for the show without her permission.

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