Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen wants Augusta to trust the coroner’s office again, and he says he’s made the changes that give the office the accountability it never had before.
Bowen said the office made “sweeping changes” in the days after the arrest of his predecessor, Grover Tuten, who was indicted on eight counts of theft and five counts of violation of oath of office. Bowen was his chief deputy coroner.
In order to prevent future abuses, Bowen said, he and his deputy coroners immediately amended the department’s policy on the handling of personal property.
“We have accountability with the property now,” he said. “There’s no way that what happened before can happen again.”
Before Tuten’s arrest, all property was handled by the coroner, who oversaw its transfer from the scene of a death to the coroner’s office and eventually back to the family of the deceased.
Now, the office has integrated a system of checks and balances to insure no personal items go undocumented as they enter and exit either of the two large vaults at the coroner’s office on Eighth Street.
“We have a custodial person that takes care of the property,” Bowen said. “It takes two signatures to get it in and two signatures to get it out to the family. We have developed new chain of custody forms that we fill out at the scene, here and with the families.”
The policy changes took effect long before the Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 383, which clarifies current law on a coroner’s obligations regarding unclaimed objects or the property of the dead. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, now moves to the House for consideration.
In an effort to reach out to at-risk youths, Bowen said, he and his deputy coroners hope to work with local courts to show them the end result of violence and drunken driving.
“If they have a juvenile in for drinking or firing a gun, let them come over and spend a day here to see what the end to that story is,” Bowen said. “I think reality sets in when you see somebody laying on that table. If we save one or two lives, we’ve done our job. We’d like to save them all.”
Kenneth Boose, who was named chief deputy coroner after Bowen was sworn in, said the coroner’s office will be more transparent than it has ever been.
“If we ever make a mistake, we’re going to be up front about it,” he said. “We’re not going to hide a thing. We’re going to be a transparent office, and I think it’s going to be good.”
With Deputy Coroner Johnny McDonald still on leave, Bowen has hired Albert Boudy, a veteran of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiners system, as a deputy coroner.
Boudy, who served eight years in the Fulton County medical examiner’s office as an investigator before working at the GBI Crime Lab in Augusta when it still performed autopsies, said he brings a degree of experience to the coroner’s office.
Boudy has been doing death investigations since 1988.
“I’ve worked with Mark and Kenneth over the years, so we have a good working relationship,” he added. “Mark has some good ideas on what he wants this office to do to serve the public, and I’m glad to be part of that.”
Bowen, a former homicide investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, said trust is important, especially for those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.
“We’re professionals,” he said. “We’re going to be here for you more than just pronouncing your loved ones dead; we’re going to be here after the fact, too.”