Forensic Investigations Anthropology. Luis A. Sanchez, M.D. - Chief Medical Examiner

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2 Luis A. Sanchez, M.D. - Chief Medical Examiner Luis Arturo Sanchez, M.D., was appointed Chief Medical Examiner of Harris County on January 1, Dr. Sanchez joined the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (formerly the Medical Examiner s Office) staff in June of 2001 as the Senior Deputy Chief Medical Examiner with more than 10 years of handson experience and expertise in forensic pathology. In addition, he is certified by the American Board of Pathology in both anatomic and forensic pathology. In his current position as Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Luis A. Sanchez, M.D. Chief Medical Examiner Sanchez oversees the day-to-day operations of the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences including interagency relationships, finance and administration, investigations, autopsy services, anthropology and crime laboratories. During Dr. Sanchez s tenure, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences has made unprecedented strides: Achieved accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT), the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board - International Program (ASCLD/LAB International/ISO 17025). Increased capacity to meet needs by obtaining over $15 million of new funding and an 88% increase in medical, laboratory and clerical personnel. Acquired cutting-edge laboratory equipment. Created the Forensic Nursing Program, Anthropology Division, and Neuropathology Division and expanded the Forensic Biology (DNA/Serology) Laboratory and Investigations Division. Developed unique learning opportunities for visiting students, lawyers, law enforcement officers and doctors. The Forensic Investigations Division has the primary responsibility to establish jurisdiction according to Texas Criminal Code and to act as the primary interface between reporting agencies such as hospitals, hospice and law enforcement. The division operates 24 hours/7 days a week and receives over 11,000 death calls annually. Forensic investigators respond to death scenes to document the death with photographs, measurements, temperature readings and written reports. The investigator secures the decedent s body and personal property as well as the integrity of collected specimens. This division is also responsible for proper decedent identification and family notification. Forensic Nurse Investigators assist in death investigations, provide case management for pathologists, collaborate with organ and tissue procurement agencies, and perform eye assessments for release of corneas for pre-autopsy recovery. The Forensic Anthropology Division brings expertise in skeletal analysis and recovery to HCIFS. The forensic anthropologists respond to scenes of skeletal, buried, and severely burned decedents ensuring proper scene documentation and skeletal recovery. The forensic anthropologists process unknown decedents through compiling comprehensive decedent descriptions, disseminating the descriptions to law enforcement and the public and following all generated leads. The staff also consults with the forensic pathologists on bone trauma and pathological conditions, contributing to the classification of cause and manner of death. The division is dedicated to training students of forensic anthropology and offers fellowship and intern positions. Finally, the anthropologists are active in research contributing to advancements in skeletal analysis, trauma analysis, and identification methods. Forensic Investigations Anthropology

3 Forensic Pathology The primary mission of the Forensic Pathology Division is to accurately determine cause and manner of death while maintaining the highest ethical and moral standards. It is the duty of the Medical Examiner to decide, based on state law, if a death should be investigated and whether an autopsy or an external examination is required. Unbiased reports from those examinations are compiled, and the findings are reported to the appropriate agencies and law enforcement entities in Harris County; the reports are also available to family members and other private citizens. Educational activities are a key responsibility of the pathologists. In the Forensic Pathology Fellowship Program, doctors with formal general pathology training spend a year learning the specialized skills comprising forensic pathology. Fellows work with staff pathologists in a course of progressive independence, gaining experience in autopsy pathology, scene investigation, and courtroom testimony. Fellows actively participate in research and in national and international forensic science conferences. In the Residency Program, resident trainees in general pathology from several medical institutions rotate through HCIFS. These rotations allow residents to gain exposure to this exciting field. The academic resources available to the Forensic Pathology Division are unparalleled. In-house expertise such as neuropathology, anthropology, crime laboratory disciplines as well as experts within other Texas Medical Center institutions are available for consultation. The wealth of case material, resources, and inquisitive personnel make HCIFS exceptionally productive in terms of publishing scientific studies and case reports to the forensic community. The Histology Laboratory processes tissue samples for microscopic examination by the pathologists. At the time of autopsy, some pathological changes require microscopic examination for recognition or to provide adequate documentation. In order for anatomical specimens to be examined under a microscope, a small biopsy of each organ or tissue must be mounted onto a glass slide. In Morgue Services, autopsy assistants help pathologists during examina tion and also transport decedents from their respective places of death to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. They are also instrumental in assisting with the receipt and release of decedents. Autopsy assistants may also assist in the preserving and collecting of evidence and the securing of a decedent s personal effects as well as helping law enforcement personnel at crime scenes. The Forensic Imaging Division performs a variety of functions within the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences including forensic photography, graphic design, web design, and video production. The forensic photographers are chiefly responsible for photographic documentation of every postmortem examination performed at HCIFS. Additionally, the Forensic Imaging Division staff provides photography training and support for scene investigation as well as evidence documentation in the Crime Laboratory. Histology Morgue Services Forensic Imaging

4 Crime Laboratory The Crime Laboratory is a leading provider of forensic services to HCIFS and the law enforcement agencies in Harris County and surrounding counties. The crime laboratory provides the highest quality services in a timely manner in the disciplines of Forensic Biology/DNA, Controlled Substances, Toxicology, and Trace Evidence. It is the only laboratory in the state of Texas that has received accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board - International Program (ASCLD/LAB International) and the American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT). The Quality Management Section includes Quality Assurance/Quality Control, Evidence Handling, Administrative Support, and Records. This section supports the Crime Laboratory by implementing and maintaining a comprehensive quality assurance program in accordance with the ASCLD/LAB International and ABFT accreditation requirements and the FBI Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories. The Quality Management personnel monitor quality assurance and quality control activities, assist in the development of short-term and long-term quality goals for the laboratory, administer Evidence Handling, and provide timely Administrative Support to the various laboratory sections to ensure laboratory services of the highest quality. Utilizing a secured Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), the Evidence Handling personnel receive and release evidence to analysts, law enforcement agencies, and the forensic pathologists. The Evidence Handling personnel are also responsible for management of the Crime Laboratory evidence vaults. Forensic Biology (DNA/Serology) maintains expertise in forensic genetics and molecular biology methods required to compare DNA recovered from crime scenes to DNA of individuals associated with a crime. The process begins with a thorough examination of evidence recovered from a crime scene by analysts trained to identify body fluid stains such as blood or semen. Samples suitable for DNA testing are processed using state-of-theart robotic equipment to purify, quantify and develop a DNA profile from the evidence. The evidence profiles are compared with DNA profiles from victims and suspects. A match between two profiles can link a suspect to a crime and, equally important, a non-match can point law enforcement personnel away from a suspect. When no suspect has been identified, DNA testing makes it possible to provide a link between a suspect and a crime via a computer database of arrestees or convicted felons. The laboratory is a member of the FBI s national DNA database network known as CODIS the Combined DNA Indexing System. CODIS links DNA test results from Harris County crime scenes to convicted offenders, arrestees, and evidence from crimes nationwide. The laboratory is constantly improving its service level by developing and implementing new and emerging DNA testing technology. Operations are fully automated utilizing robotic systems to conduct the newest generation STR and Y-STR tests. The laboratory maintains the highest level of quality assurance that meets or exceeds all national standards for forensic DNA testing labs. Forensic Biology (DNA/Serology) Laboratory

5 Toxicology Laboratory The Toxicology Laboratory is a full-service forensic lab that offers analysis in Postmortem Toxicology, DWI/ DUI, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault, and other Toxicologyrelated analysis. Our staff maintains an active role in learning and teaching by developing methods for new drugs, upgrading technology, and maintaining high standards in serving the community. Postmortem Toxicology: Following the collection of specimens during the postmortem examination of a decedent, analysts within the Screening Section initiate a series of presumptive tests to detect or exclude the presence of known drugs. Samples that test positive for drugs are sent for confirmation by mass spectrometric analysis. By comparing the levels of drugs found in the body, it is possible to elucidate the patterns of use or abuse of drugs that were taken by the decedent before death. Driving While Impaired / Driving Under the Influence: Law enforcement personnel who detain an intoxicated driver may deliver blood and/or urine samples to our laboratory for analysis. The lab uses several state-of-the-art methods to screen and confirm the presence or absence of alcohol and/or drugs that may be responsible for a criminal vehicular offense. Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault: Law enforcement personnel investigating a sexual assault can request hospitals to collect specimens from the victims for toxicology analysis. Our protocols dictate a thorough approach to finding common and uncommon drugs that are often implicated in rendering the victim unconscious or unable to resist unwanted sexual contact. Miscellaneous Toxicology Analysis: Law enforcement personnel may submit tainted foods, beverages, etc. from victims who suspect that they have been poisoned. Our highly sensitive instruments can determine the identity and levels of substances that may indicate that criminal poisoning has occurred. The Trace Evidence Laboratory receives evidence submitted by the Pathology Service of HCIFS in support of their death investigations as well as all law enforcement agencies in Harris County, including the City of Houston, to assist in various crime cases ranging from misdemeanor discharge of a firearm to capital murder. This evidence is typically collected and preserved at autopsy or a crime scene. The Trace Evidence Laboratory utilizes scanning electron microscopes equipped with highly sensitive X-Ray detectors to identify the size, shape, and elemental composition of gunshot residue (GSR) particles from the submitted samples. The results of these analyses are reported to the requestor to help them determine whether a surface has come into contact with a fired weapon or ammunition cartridge. An additional service provided by the Trace Evidence Laboratory is Fire Debris Analysis. This analysis is performed on evidence retrieved by fire investigators, usually assisted by trained canines, from fires suspected of being started with ignitable liquid(s). The evidence is received in airtight containers and subjected to moderate heating where the residues of these liquids are exposed to a charcoal strip. The charcoal is extracted with a benign solvent and the extract is analyzed by gas chromatography with mass selective detection. Through the analysis of the data from this process, the examiner is able to report the presence or absence of a myriad of classes of ignitable liquids or their residues. Trace Evidence Laboratory

6 Controlled Substances Laboratory The Controlled Substances Laboratory analyzes and determines the chemical make-up of unknown substances for the presence of controlled substances submitted in criminal cases. Marijuana, cocaine, pharmaceuticals, designer drugs, methamphetamine, PCP, LSD and mushrooms make up the majority of submissions. The laboratory also identifies a large number of non-controlled substances including the chemicals used to add weight or to increase a drug s effect. Most importantly, the laboratory is able to detect new substances of abuse which mimic the effect of controlled substances but are not yet controlled. The Controlled Substances Laboratory performs all of these tasks as a result of the commitment of HCIFS to provide state-of-the-art equipment such as the Direct Analysis in Real Time Time- Of-Flight spectrometer (DART-TOF). This instrument identifies molecular formulas with an exact mass measurement, in addition to identifying key fragments of the compound. This is done without sample destruction while providing rapid analysis. Samples not tested on the DART-TOF are screened with Gas Chromatography (GC) and confirmed with Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). The GC separates compounds in a mixture based on their chemical properties. The GC-MS fragments and then separates fragments of a compound to identify it by comparing its fragmentation patterns with patterns stored in a database. Both processes have a high degree of automation, allowing for overnight analysis. These instruments are connected to a network server, allowing analysts to work without paper, reviewing data from their workstations. Administration Services of the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences includes multiple sections. The Business Office fills autopsy report requests and advises when reports are available for pickup. The Death Certificate Section processes death certificates within the guidelines set by the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics for all decedents examined by HCIFS. Finance and Administration is responsible for the daily financial operations of HCIFS including purchasing, accounts payable, payroll, grants management, and budget-related matters. Transcription works closely with the pathologists to ensure that the autopsy reports are transcribed accurately. The Records Section maintains and files all decedent cases handled by HCIFS ensuring that files contain all required documentation. The Family Liaison Team assists family members of decedents in understanding the Medical Examiner process by clarifying issues that may be of concern and by providing accurate information to families. Systems Support provides technical assistance to all divisions within HCIFS by creating and maintaining an efficient computer network. The Systems team has been expanding technology within HCIFS with application development and hardware growth and has created a unique business process that includes ongoing focus in specialized technology as it relates to pathology and forensic laboratory analyses. Services provided by the Systems team include the use of digital technology throughout HCIFS including an RFID barcode tracking system, digital X-rays and fingerprints and customized applications. Additionally, the Systems team is expanding the use of wireless technology to offer more flexibility during all stages of evidence processing. The Systems team is implementing a paperless environment throughout the HCIFS, connecting each division as they gather data, both within the office and at scenes. Administration Systems Support

7 Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences Member Institution of the Texas Medical Center 1885 Old Spanish Trail Houston, Texas Main Number: (713) Main Fax: (713) Autopsy Reports: (713) Death Certificate/Decedent Release Status Line: (713) Facility Tours: (713) Family Liaison Line: (713) Jobs: Public Information Officer: Saving Our Kids Program: (713) Accreditations Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education American Board of Forensic Toxicology American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/ Laboratory Accreditation Board - International Program National Association of Medical Examiners Texas Department of Public Safety Published August 2010

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