Helping Interested Parties Fill in the Blanks in Official Death Investigations
By Jim Binford
Tragedy. None of us are ever very far from it. As professional investigators, we are sometimes asked, both personally and professionally, about how to obtain official information from local, state, or federal investigations. Too often these requests come when a family is attempting to deal and cope with a tragedy. By their very nature, death investigations should be, and are, prioritized in the top range of confidentiality by those agencies charged with their official investigations.
Helping clients in securing information is an enormous help in gaining closure and stabilization in their recovery process. By far, most official death investigations are detailed and competently documented. Sometimes, however, the review and explanation of the discovered facts are not well transmitted and that lack of communication creates mistrust, questions, and rumors.
Members of the ResultQuest® team have developed a method and successful track record of navigating clients through the tangled web of sadness, confusion, and feelings of hopelessness in these post-death investigations and gaining official documents for client consumption and review.
Various laws, court rulings, attorney general rulings, and individual agency policies, make official records available after the official investigation has been closed, or in rare cases, show lack of activity over much time in the official investigation process. This lack of activity (i.e. "Cold Case") in these open cases is usually measured in years or decades and is much more difficult to gain because of the possibility of a suspect trying to gather information on his or her past actions that may still have legal consequences.
To help the client, investigators should gather as much information as possible from the client. Family members and friends may or may not have been interviewed during the official investigation. Internet searches will often gain local media reports gathered at the time of the event and information developed afterwards. Electronic news outlets usually have archives that are easily accessed and recorded. Contact with officers, investigators, or agents should be attempted in person as most are very busy and may avoid or be resistant to sharing any information through a telephone contact.
All death scene investigations have several overviews that may be by investigators. History and experience have shown that often, a rural Justice of the Peace will speak and release information about their involvement in a death scene and their official conclusion. Medical Examiners and their own scene investigators will often share public information, but also may have knowledge of and be governed by federal HIPAA regulations. Their official documents, (i.e. autopsy reports, toxicology, and official determination of cause and manner of death) are public record and may be purchased after completion. Photographs are generally included in public records.
Current law enforcement agencies have developed and have in place rules and policies regarding supplying complete reports through a Public Information Office. These rules and policies should, and in most cases do, follow well entrenched Freedom of Information guidelines. Most have forms and requests to submit for their record keeping and review. Many of the larger agencies have these forms available via the Internet.
In some investigations, written correspondence and requests should be sent directly to the city attorney, county attorney, or state attorney general's office. In many of the reviews and requests, the official investigators charged with the investigation will direct requests to those offices. ResultQuest® has a history of success in these written correspondences when the value of closure for the loved ones of the victim is highlighted and explained.
In conclusion, the avenues of access of these official records are time consuming and require methodical steps, however, when they are gained, will give the client the knowledge needed to help their families in the closure process.
When in need of official death records to fill in the blanks and bring your client closure, contact ResultQuest® at (713) 781-9040.