Under the 30-year reign of then-Hamilton County Coroner Frank Cleveland, morgue workers often drank on the job – including Cleveland – and were drunk, high or had intercourse while working, a lawsuit alleged Tuesday.
“Cleveland kept alcohol in his office at the morgue and also drank alcohol while present in the morgue,” the suit notes.
The suit was filed by Cincinnati attorney Al Gerhardstein in federal court on behalf of the families of three women whose bodies morgue attendant Kenneth Douglas admitted sexually abusing – Karen Range, Angel Hicks and Charlene Appling.
“Any allegations are nonsense and they’re not true,” said Cleveland, 90, on Tuesday from his Florida home, adding he was unaware of the suit.
The suit was filed against the Hamilton County commissioners, Cleveland, Douglas and Bernard Kersker, Douglas’ morgue supervisor.
Douglas is in prison serving six years after he was convicted of gross abuse of a corpse involving the three women. Douglas admitted having sex with each corpse just prior to their autopsies.
Those sued “completely failed to protect the sanctity of the deceased by allowing unprofessional and inappropriate activities to take place in the morgue,” the suit alleges.
While the suit focused on the behavior of Douglas, a morgue worker from 1976-1992, the accusations against his supervisors also were harsh.
Allowing behavior that resulted in Douglas’ “heinous crimes” and other workers' drinking, drugs and having sex, Gerhardstein said, was inexcusable.
“We have indications that (Cleveland and supervisors) knew about this conduct,” Gerhardstein said of workers who were high and drunk on the job. “They still let them handle bodies.
“Cleveland created an environment ripe for such abuse.”
Cleveland was elected Hamilton County coroner in 1964 and re-elected until he left office in 1994. Under his tenure, none of the morgue’s interior doors was locked, there were no security cameras or guards and morgue attendants had access to every room in the morgue, often late at night when no supervisors were working, the suit alleges.
The suit specifically accused Cleveland of drinking on the job at the morgue and knowing Douglas so well that Douglas did routine maintenance at Cleveland’s home.
“Cleveland was aware of the (alcohol and drug) misconduct of the morgue attendants,” the suit added.
Kersker, the suit added, knew Douglas was drinking, using drugs on the job and inviting female visitors in after hours for sex, but took no action to stop him.
While some details in the suit were exposed during the criminal investigation of Douglas, some are new.
“That’s the role of these civil rights suits, to hold the appropriate people responsible,” Gerhardstein said.
The families want money, Gerhardstein said, but the suit also was filed to stop further abuse.
“People do outrageous things when they are on crack cocaine,” Gerhardstein said of Douglas.
Douglas was caught when a 2008 DNA test requested by David Steffen, who killed Range and is on Ohio’s Death Row, revealed the DNA in Range’s body wasn’t Steffen’s. More tests revealed the DNA belonged to Douglas.
Norm Aubin, the attorney for Douglas, wasn’t surprised.
“I knew a suit would be filed and that Douglas would be named,” Aubin said Tuesday.
Hamilton County Administrator Patrick Thompson said commissioners will meet Monday with attorneys to discuss the suit and can’t comment on it until then.
By Kimball Perry Tuesday, July 20, 2010
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