In a new Keys medical examiner, we need compassion

There are few jobs involving death and the heartbreak of the family of the deceased that goes with it. A medical examiner, the person charged with determining how someone died, is one of those jobs.

In Monroe County, that position has been held by Dr. Thomas Beaver since June 2014, when he replaced the respected E. Hunt Scheurman, who took a university teaching job in Tennessee. Beaver’s governor-appointed term expires this July 1. With near-unanimous opposition to reappointment among Keys law enforcement, funeral-home owners, government officials and the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, it’s pretty clear Gov. Rick Scott will not re-up Beaver.

We believe that because of reported lack of compassion in Beaver’s work, arrogance and apparent inability to work well with others, that’s the way to go. The Florida Keys need a medical examiner who is competent not only in medicine but in compassion and working relationships.

Among his controversial actions: Transporting bodies in an open-bed pickup (he says it happened only once), arguing with law enforcement over jurisdiction at the scenes of death, such as the deaths of three utility workers in an Upper Keys manhole in January, and leaving some autopsied bodies in a “butchered” state (that from county Mayor George Neugent, relaying things he’s heard from families).

Can you imagine having a family member die and you are planning an open-casket funeral but might not be able to because your departed loved one has been “butchered?”

Beaver stood for judgment May 10 before the six-member Medical Examiners Commission, made up of medical professionals. There was, frankly, not a good word to be had for Beaver. Beaver went on the defensive, saying those speaking against how he runs his office were “orchestrated with a purpose and it’s very disturbing.” He didn’t explain why there was what he believes is a conspiracy to run him out of town.

A county-ordered audit of his operations last year found that he used some of his office’s money on himself, including for a down payment on a personal automobile. In response, Beaver wrote that the audit report “failed to consider the fact that, as an independent contractor, the medical examiner considered not only his base salary as compensation for services, but also benefits associated with being a business owner and operator.”

The medical examiner is not a “business owner and operator.” A medical examiner is someone on whom law enforcement should be able to rely as it prosecutes cases. A medical examiner is someone on whom families of the dead, whether the death was nefarious or just from natural causes, can rely for compassion.

At the May 10 Medical Examiners Commission meeting in Marathon, commission Chairman Stephen Nelson, chief medical examiner for District 10, which consists of four counties in Central Florida, said “there isn’t a single one [person] that has anything nice to say.” He called it “unheard of.”

So now a search committee is being formed, with State Attorney Dennis Ward taking the lead, to find Beaver’s replacement. The search will include law enforcement officials and others. We believe that when the committee first meets, it will know its charge: This community needs a competent, compassionate medical examiner who puts the community ahead of his own interests.