The V. I. Department of Justice is set to open a state-of-the-art forensic facility on St. Thomas, but some crime scene testing will still have to be done off island.
Carol Thomas-Jacobs, the acting attorney general, updated the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety on the status of the morgue on Wednesday, the day before Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. nominated Denise George-Counts as attorney general.
In January 2017, then-Attorney General Claude Walker unveiled plans for the facility, which includes a morgue for the medical examiner. The facility is housed in the former Creque’s Funeral Home at 1A-11 Beltjen Gade.
At the time Walker said, “It will be used as training for local law enforcement officers in areas such as anatomy and mechanism of injuries, methods of collecting evidence, such as blood specimens, tissues, hair fibers, narcotics testing and DNA analysis for identification,” He added, “This is the first time in the history of the Virgin Islands that the Department of Justice has a facility of this kind.”
The project has been funded through federal grants, Thomas-Jacob told the lawmakers last week. She added it has been outfitted with two autopsy tables; a 20-body cooler (40 bodies when stacked); visitors/family room; observation/identification room; offices for both medical examiners; and handicap accessible bathrooms with locker, shower, and washer/dryer.
The only step left, accordong to Thomas-Jacobs, is to get an X-ray machine on island and to install a backup generator.
“These resources will give the department full control of the morgue, which will reduce the number of persons in the chain of custody and, thereby, enhance the integrity of evidence collected,” Thomas-Jacobs said.
After she finished her presentation Sen. Stedmann Hodge, Jr, asked whether forensic samples will be sent off island for analysis. She said yes. He recommended that someone be hired so the analysis can be done here. Thomas-Jacobs said she agreed.
She testified that grant funds had also been used to purchase supplies, such as body bags, protective gowns, face and eye protective shields, and surgical equipment to perform autopsies.
She expects delivery of two medical examiner’s vehicles – one for St. Thomas and one for St. Croix – within a few weeks.
The department, Thomas-Jacobs said, is also establishing a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. It will prosecute cases in which abuse or neglect of patients is suspected in health care facilities receiving payments under the territory’s Medicaid program. The department’s application for federal funds for the unit was approved in December and it should be up and running within a few months.
The department has 131 employees in nine divisions.