Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $659,000)
FY 2022 Byrne Discretionary Community Project Funding/Byrne Discretionary Grants Program
Application ID#: Grant 13620753
In the Virgin Islands, the Office of Medical Examiner (within the VI Department of Justice) is mandated by law to investigate the manner and cause of all suspicious deaths. In the St. Croix district, VIDOJ’s Office of Medical Examiner shares autopsy tools, equipment and morgue space with the Juan Luis Hospital. Unfortunately, this space will not be available in the very near future as the Juan Luis Hospital will be undergoing a major renovation and remodeling project that will impact the medical examiner’s accessibility to the morgue and autopsy suite areas of the hospital. This will displace the medical examiners, leaving no work area or tools for them to conduct autopsies to determine cause and manner of death. Further, it will significantly limit the Territory's morgue capacity, causing a challenge to the Medical Examiner’s ability to properly store and manage deceased bodies. It will cause a systematic challenge to the Territory’s ability to process autopsies and store and manage bodies awaiting processing.
In the wake of the national health risks and threats associated with COVID-19, the Office of Medical Examiner must also prepare to safely retrieve, store and perform autopsies on bodies associated with suspicious deaths that may have been infected by the Coronavirus. Currently, the Virgin Islands does not have a stand-alone medical examiner's office in St. Croix that provides morgue and autopsy services to the District.
The addition of this facility will provide direct medical examiner and forensic science services to St. Croix along with a professional environment for the Medical Examiner, forensic scientists and investigators to examine, analyze and process forensic evidence related to suspicious deaths for the prosecution of crime. The capacity to complete autopsies, store and process forensic evidence will increase with the addition of an expanded autopsy suite and forensic testing services in the district. The Medical Examiner will no longer have to share space with other pathologists and will have the ability to independently schedule autopsies and utilize morgue space. Overall, the Medical examiner and forensic investigators will be better equipped to manage the collection and storage of forensic evidence while also improving the Medical Examiner’s ability to manage the chain of custody during the processing of evidence. Forensic evidence will be processed more timely as autopsy and forensic services will be accessed directly without having delayed scheduling due to hospital protocols. The current backlog of cases will be reduced as law enforcement personnel and prosecutors will receive forensic evidence more timely for the successful adjudication of violent crimes.
The quality and accuracy of forensic testing will improve as Medical Examiner and forensic services capabilities are enhanced. This enhancement allows for the processing of more cases and successful prosecutorial outcomes.