Ventura’s Medical Examiner Under Criminal Investigation

Dr. Jon Smith may be under criminal investigation for “unauthorized post-mortem procedures” for his work as Ventura County’s Medical Examiner, but in Santa Barbara County — where he works for Sheriff and Coroner Bill Brown as one of the county’s two forensic pathologists — Smith remains on the clock for performing autopsies.

Brown’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover said the Sheriffs Department conducted “extensive research” into the protocols and practices of Dr. Smith. “We are confident that our Coroner’s Unit protocols and practices were and are lawful as were the services provided by Dr. Smith on behalf of our Coroner’s Unit.” Hoover added, “We have not been made aware of any irregularities in our County.”

Smith has been working on a contract basis for the past four years. His most recent contract — approved May 19 — caps his maximum pay at $290,000 a year. The Coroner’s Unit performs as many as six autopsies a week and as few as none.

Smith garnered headline coverage late last week when his Ventura offices were searched by authorities investigating allegations of “unauthorized post-mortem procedures,” a phrase simultaneously vague and incendiary. Investigators with the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office remain uncertain what violations Smith is alleged to have committed, and District Attorney Joyce Dudley has cautioned the media against filling in the dots. “Don’t go there,” she said.

Despite the criminal investigation taking place in Ventura, Smith — at least for the time being — will remain a contract employee in good standing in Santa Barbara, and he is allowed to practice by the California Medical Board. Should that change, Hoover noted, the county has three forensic pathologists who can assist with autopsies. In the meantime, she added, Brown plans to begin recruiting for a fulltime pathologist.

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