County Ups Pay For Coroner’s Forensic Pathologists

( May 5) Three key members of the county coroner’s staff have been given substantial salary increases.
The county board of supervisors this week gave approval to a recommendation by San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon which provides Dr. Frank Sheridan, who serves as the chief forensic pathologist for the coroner’s division, with an annual increase of $23,823, bringing his total annual compensation to $335,093. He now receives a salary of $245,820 and benefits of $89,273.
The board also agreed to provide Dr. Chanikarn Changsri, a forensic pathologist in the coroner’s division, with an annual increase of $23,044, bringing his total compensation package to $315,301, consisting of a salary of $228,720 and benefits of $86,581. Changsri was previously being paid $101.90 per hour.
The board further agreed to increase the remuneration paid to Dr. Brian Hutchins, a forensic pathologist who recently replaced Dr. Dennis Rhee and who has less experience than Dr. Changsri. Hutchins will see his pay increased by $17,132 annually, bringing his total compensation to $242,610, including a salary of $170,068 and benefits of $72,542.
The coroner’s division investigates deaths within its jurisdiction to determine the manner and means of death. In certain instances, forensic pathologists conduct autopsies to provide expert diagnosis as to the cause of death.
On January 9, 2005, following the retirement of Brian McCormick, the county’s last independently elected coroner, the coroner’s department was merged with the sheriff’s department in San Bernardino County and the sheriff became the titular coroner. No sheriff since that time, however, has possessed the medical training or expertise normally associated with the coroner’s function. And while the coroner’s office has been merged with the sheriff’s department in other California counties, the consolidation was a controversial one for several reasons. Whereas previously murder investigations would involve the independent coroner’s office making its scientific determinations outside the oversight of the sheriff’s department, which is the law enforcement agency investigating many of those homicides, that is no longer the case. Moreover, the coroner is routinely involved in investigating the deaths that come about as the result of officer involved shootings, including ones involving sheriff’s deputies.
According to sheriff’s captain Shannon Dicus, who represents the sheriff’s office with regard to items presented by the department to the board of supervisors, “The proposed contract amendments will provide salary adjustments for the county’s three existing full-time forensic pathologists assigned to the coroner’s division. Given there are only an estimated 500 forensic pathologists nationwide, it is imperative that salaries remain competitive to enable the county to recruit and retain these highly sought-after individuals. The recommended increase of 7.5 percent is necessary in order to maintain parity with other counties. The pathologists will also be given a one-time retention incentive of $1,750, to assist the department with retention for this hard-to-recruit classification.”
The employment contracts with Sheridan, Changsri and Hutchins are for a period of three years, commencing May 16, 2015 through May 15, 2018, and may be extended for three successive one-year periods at the discretion of the sheriff.

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