Garland Camper is no longer Pulaski Counthy coroner. He submitted his letter of resignation yesterday to County Judge Buddy Villines at Villines' request. In Pulaski, the coroner serves at the pleasure of the county judge, the chief administrative officer of county government.
Reason for the requested resignation: "I've talked to him for several months," Villines said. "He was always in conflict with police agencies." The squabbling was evident in cross-talk between Camper and Sheriff Doc Holladay at Quorum Court meetings, but Villines said virtually every police agency, beginning with Little Rock police, had complaints about Camper's injecting himself into news coverage of crimes. He said Camper had a tendency to talk to the press about opinions rather than go to police agencies directly. He said he sometimes agreed with Camper's opinions, but all it did was "aggravate" cops.
Camper made about $80,000 a year and had been coroner since May 2008, part of a roughly 10-year tenure in the coroner's office. His resignation letter said he left the office improved and he hoped to work as a "mass fatality specialist and death services instructor and specialist."
Villines said he'll be appointing a deputy coroner, Gerone Hobbs, to succeed Camper. Hobbs will be paid about $77,000.
Villines said he also had some other issues with office management. He said he'd been talking to Camper repeatedly, but "it became clear we were not on the same page." He said he didn't fire Camper, but requested the resignation and Camper submitted a brief letter. Since he was not fired, his personnel record isn't open to inspection, but Villines said it contained little.
"He’s a good guy, a good man," Villines said. "He just made mistakes."
Villines said no particular case led to unhappiness with Camper. But MEMS, the metropolitan ambulance service, was one that made its unhappiness clear with objections to Camper's criticism of its EMTs for handling of a case of a woman pronounced dead who was still alive. He also complained about tardy notification of a death by the sheriff's office. And there was the hotly controversial case, still under investigation, in which off-duty officers killed a man in Little Rock apartments after he reportedly attacked them. The man is the father of a current and former Little Rock cop. Camper disputed the officers' claim that the officers first used pepper spray to subdue him. The police said Camper was wrong.
I have been unable to reach Camper for comment.
Camper had become a regular in news coverage. It went so far that I once saw Camper quoted in a Democrat-Gazette article on a police call in which no one had died. Villines remarked, "I told him one time this is not CSI," a reference to a popular TV series.
Camper popped up in international news coverage for comments about a shipment of human heads discovered in airport freight.
AND: From the long-ago machine, almost 25 years ago, some excerpts from a 1986 Arkansas Gazette article:
Three years ago, former Pulaski County Coroner Steve Nawojczyk told the Arkansas Coroners Association that because they lacked training, the “majority” of coroners are laughingstocks to the majority of law enforcement agencies.”
Ideally, under the dual system of the elected county coroners [all aren't elected any longer] and the appointed medical examiner working out of the state Crime Laboratory in Little Rock, the coroner should be the investigative arm of the medical examiner’s office, Nawojczyk, now the chief deputy coroner of Pulaski County, said in a recent interview. Who is in a better position to do a background investigation and interview local people than a local person?
“In order for that system to work well, all the cogs have got be well-oiled and the rub is training,” Nawojczyk said.
This creates potential for conflict between the coroners and police, who are increasingly better-trained in homicide investigations, and prosecutors who have come to rely on the forensic expertise of the medical examiner.
“Law enforcement personnel think we get in the way,” Nawojczyk told his colleagues three years ago. And more recently, of prosecutors he said, “Most of them will tell you they don’t even mess with him (the local coroner.) They don’t get his reports. They wouldn’t subpoena him on a bet.”