The primary function of the Medical Examiner's Office is to investigate the deaths of all individuals in Bexar County who die suddenly, violently, and unexpectedly in order to determine the cause and manner of death in these cases. The office conducts scene investigations and interviews witnesses, attending physicians, relatives, and police. Based on the information gathered, a decision is made as to whether the case is a Medical Examiner case and whether an autopsy needs to be performed. Body fluids and tissue are are analyzed by the Toxicology Section to determine the presence or absence of poisons, drugs, or other chemicals.
Each section of the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office supports these functions with their specific responsibilities.
Medical Examiner Section
All Medical Examiners in the office are licensed Texas physicians, and all staff members are Forensic Pathologists certified by the American Board of Pathology in Anatomic and Forensic Pathology. A pathologist performing a specialized year of training in Forensic Pathology is also on staff at any given time.
Under Texas state law, the Medical Examiners investigate deaths in Bexar County that are due to trauma or injury, intoxication, foul play, undetermined causes, or sudden and unexpected natural disease. This investigation may take many forms, but often involves an autopsy examination of the deceased person. It also involves investigation of the death scene, medical records, and other facets of the decedent's life and death, and usually includes an analysis of blood and other body fluids in our Toxicology Laboratory to detect drugs, alcohol, or other foreign substances. Doctors are on call 24 hours a day, and perform examinations seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The Administrative section is responsible for managing and coordinating the daily administrative operations of the office. It oversees all business operations in the office as well as being the primary point of contact for human resources issues. This section also serves as liaison for the office regarding all new programs working closely with the Bexar County Information Technology staff and vendors/contractors to ensure program satisfaction and compliance of all contracts.
The Medical Investigators are the first point of contact for those persons or organizations reporting deaths to the Medical Examiner’s Office. They collect initial information about these cases and make determinations as to whether or not the Medical Examiner will take jurisdiction in the matter. They conduct scene investigations; interview witnesses, attending physicians, relatives, and police; and conduct follow-up information gathering and investigation in coordination with the Medical Examiners.
Additionally, the Medical Investigators provide security for the Forensic Science Center. The Investigation Section is in operation continually, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Medical Investigators must obtain certification as a Medicolegal Death Investigator with the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) early in their careers. Medical Investigators must possess a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in either a scientific or criminal justice-related discipline.
Morgue & Autopsy Section
The Morgue Specialists assist the Medical Examiners in performing postmortem examinations. They are trained to assist in collecting evidence and drawing blood and other body fluids for analysis. The morgue specialists eviscerate bodies, clean and prepare bodies after autopsy, and perform other related activities. They maintain the morgue and its instruments and are responsible for admitting and releasing decedents into/from the morgue. They perform photography, fingerprinting, and other procedures to confirm identification of bodies. The morgue specialists are trained in radiography, performing X-rays when required by the Medical Examiners. They assist in cleaning and preparation of skeletal remains for examination. They also inventory, maintain, and release medications and evidence collected from bodies.
The Toxicology Laboratory is accredited by the American Board of Forensic Toxicologists. The laboratory exists to assist the Medical Examiners in the determination of the cause and manner of death in cases under their investigation. This task is accomplished through analytical postmortem toxicology services, the interpretation of analytical results, and case consultations. The laboratory is a state of the art facility under the direction of a doctoral level Chief Toxicologist.
The Office Services Section consists of several office staff that prepare legal documents to include death certificates and cremation authorization permits. They handle all incoming calls and visitors to the building for the Medical Examiner’s Office and for other tenants of the Forensic Science Center.
They handle all requests for records in accordance with the Open Government Records Rules, including responding to subpoenas and obtaining guidance from the District Attorney’s Office regarding homicide and undetermined cases. They handle all the scanning of added records and the destruction of records after they are scanned into an electronic system in accordance to office policy and retention laws.
They provide secretarial support to the doctors and Administration, including handling court coordination for testimony by doctors, for both in-county and out-of-county cases. They transcribe dictated autopsy and other examination reports, performing quality assurance on all case files, and scan the entire file to the electronic system.
They also assist in generating statistics used for the annual report each year as well as statistical data as needed for other agencies, news media, and other county officials.