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Samuels-Cooper could remain on ballot in November

Upon returning from the lunch recess, Rob Tyson of Robinson Gray Stepp & Laffitte, who represents Coroner Bucky Mock, called his next witness. Sabrina Gast took the stand at 2:25 p.m. Gast has been the York County Coroner since 2006, was made head of the South Carolina Coroner’s Association on July 1 and is on the South Carolina Coroner’s Training Advisory Committee. During her time with the York County Coroner’s Office, she has investigated thousands of deaths. Tyson questioned her regarding the process of death investigation, and her answer closely resembled Mock’s response to the same question prior to lunch. She reiterated that according to South Carolina state law, only a coroner or deputy coroner may perform a death investigation. According to her, under no law can an administrative assistant perform death investigations. Tyson requested Gast read and assess LaNette Samuels-Cooper’s affidavit filed to run for the office of Clarendon County Coroner. Samuels-Cooper checked the qualification box stating she has a four-year degree and one year of death investigation. Tyson asked Gast if Samuels-Cooper, as an administrative assistant, could have gathered that one year of death investigation experience she claimed to have. “Not according to state statute,” said Gast. The question regarding Samuels-Cooper’s registration for a five-day class in August arose. Gast asserted the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) program is not a class or course. It is a certification process. To apply to begin the process, an applicant must be 18 years old or more, have a high school diploma, have at least 640 hours of death investigation experience and be currently employed by a coroner’s office in a death investigation position. Gast further stated the class Samuels-Cooper has enrolled in is a continuing education course not associated with the certification process. Tyson questioned whether, as Sabb began to discuss, Samuels-Cooper could have gained death investigation experience for doing portions of the work, such as answering the phones to dispatch a coroner or deputy coroner, speaking with family or requesting medical records. Gast stated these things would apply if she was in a death investigation position, such as a deputy coroner or coroner. However, as an administrative assistant, not able to do the full investigative process, she would not be credited under ABMDI standards. Kimberly Barr, an attorney with the Sabb Law Group, cross-examined Gast. She requested Gast again state the requirements to sit for the certification test with ABMDI. She went item by item through what would be entailed with a death investigation and asked if a coroner or deputy coroner might delegate some of the tasks, such as answering phones or requesting medical records, to an administrative assistant. Gast confirmed they might. However, under continued questioning, Gast asserted that the ABMDI and the state statute are not the same. The hours credited to death investigation is in regards only to the ABMDI qualifications, not to state statute regarding hours of death investigation. Gast also responded to questions regarding interfacing with and working with law enforcement in investigations. She stated the law enforcement investigations and the coroner investigations are not the same investigation. They look for different things, although they may share information at times. However, it was not a simple matter of looking at the law enforcement investigations.

Judge Cothran stated the law doesn’t allow for any person not already a coroner or deputy coroner who doesn’t qualify under the first six qualifications, to become coroner due to the requirements to enter the certification process. A discussion ensued regarding the issue. The first six ways to qualify include being a medical examiner, being a doctor or nurse, having three years of death investigation experience, having two years plus a two-year degree or having one year, plus a four-year degree. The final qualification is having a forensic science degree or having a state-recognized certification as coroner, or being enrolled in a forensic science degree program or enrolled in the certification process which will be completed within one year of taking office. Tyson argued the question wasn’t whether she could enter the certification process or not. He stated whether it was a great way to do things or not was irrelevant as it is current state law. He again brought it back around to the fact that Samuels-Cooper did not qualify under any of the requirements provided by state law, including the one way she claimed to be qualified: to have a four-year degree plus one year of death investigation experience. Ronnie Sabb of Sabb Law Group brought up the fact that Samuels-Cooper had registered for a class at St. Louis University. However, the ABMDI is no longer affiliated with St. Louis University, and Sabb asserted no information was provided about where to take courses to qualify you for the ABMDI process. It was again pointed out, there aren’t courses that qualify a person for ABMDI certification. It is a certification board, which requires a specific set of qualifications. Gast left the stand at 3:37 p.m. At this point, Cothran recessed the court for the day. Cothran gave Tyson until Tuesday at close of business to provide a response to the motion made by Sabb at 9:45 a.m. This motion requested the case be dismissed because Mock failed to file a protest with the Democratic Party. Cothran had previously ruled it is highly possible the issue of when Samuels-Cooper filed may be related to that case ruling. However, the question of her qualifications to be coroner may still fall under Cothran’s authority. Cothran will rule on the motion on Wednesday. If he rules to dismiss both points, Mock would have the option to sue again. However, if he rules all or part of the case should continue, the case will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. on July 27 when Samuels-Cooper may take the stand as a witness. Manning Times will provide more information as it becomes available.  


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