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PEP June 2016
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Public Employee Press

First in a series


"I've seen a lot firsthand - burned, crushed, broken or decomposing bodies."
—Alex Leung
Medico-Legal Investigator, Local 768

DC 37/AFSCME members share a deep commitment to public service and work 24/7 to make New York City a global capital.

New York is the city that never sleeps. Around the clock, emergencies need responses. Streets need cleaning. Families need care. Students need well-run schools. our neighborhoods demand safety.
That's why DC 37 members Never Quit.

To nominate someone to participate in this campaign, contact PEPeditor@dc37.net.
I am a licensed Physician's Assistant and I started this job in 2004.

I'm one of the first on the scene when someone dies.

I investigate the circumstances and preliminary cause of death. I piece together the last hours of a person's life.

For decades, the Medical Examiner's Office relied on doctors who moonlighted after hours to investigate deaths around New York City. Police stayed at the scene for hours until the doctor arrived.

Today, we have a new Chief Medical Examiner and my department has about 20 Medico-Legal Investigators that cover the entire city 24/7. We identify potential causes of death.

We look at the victim's medical condition, any diseases, drug history, alcoholism, or natural causes like cancer. We look for suspicious circumstances that signal accidents, homicides or suicides. We also identify life-threatening situations and correct public safety hazards.

I work alone. At the death scene, I interview detectives, and later I contact medical professionals to get the victim's X-rays, health and dental records, which are used to establish the identity.

Our training is similar to doctors'. We build our investigations on a medically focused foundation to find the true cause of death.

I've gone into swamps, the woods, onto train tracks and into dangerous buildings to examine death scenes; I've examined exhumed corpses.

I photograph the corpse and compile details in a report for the Chief Medical Examiner. The information I gather is often used in court; I am occasionally called to testify in high-profile cases.

Heroin is a big issue now, so we document any packaging we find at the scene of death and inform the authorities - the police and the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene - of lethal batches of street drugs. Homelessness is another big issue in New York City. We encounter a lot of homeless deaths and work with the Dept. of Homeless Services when we find them in shelters or on the street.

I've seen a lot firsthand - burned, crushed, broken or decomposing bodies - some who were fortunate enough to have grown old and die and others who died too young.

It's challenging to deal with grieving families, especially when a child or infant dies. We maintain a delicate balance. The family can be emotional and traumatized by an untimely death and I'm there asking them to recreate the events leading to their finding their dead child.

Our goal as Medico-Legal Investigators is to help determine the manner of death, whether by homicide, accident, medical complications or suicide. I believe my work gives families peace and helps bring closure.


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