On September 2, 2012, I posted a quick story about a large number of human organs being found in a storage locker in Florida previously rented by a forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Berkland.
No charges had been filed against Dr. Berkland when I wrote the original post, and it was not clear whether he had broken any laws.
Well, things have changed. Dr. Berkland was arrested on September 7, 2012 and charged with “…improper storage of hazardous waste, keeping a public nuisance and driving with a suspended license.”
An attorney for the state says more charges may be filed.
According to ABC News, Dr. Berkland faces up to 5 years in prison.
In addition to the criminal charges he faces, I have to wonder if the families of those whose organs Dr. Berkland allegedly stored in the locker will come after him with civil suits.
Readers will of course recall the very recent $2 million verdict against a Florida hospital, a pathologist and the pathologist’s practice for the way in which they handled the organs of the plaintiff’s mother after her autopsy. That case was a little different because the organs in question were destroyed, whereas these were kept.
Seeing as some of the organs in the storage locker were found in soda cups and food containers, I imagine there could be many unhappy families out there.
Dr. Berkland was released on $10,000 bond.
(CBS/AP) PENSACOLA, Fla. – Police arrested former medical examiner Michael Berkland on Friday for allegedly keeping crudely preserved human remains in a rented storage unit in Florida last month.
Berkland, 57, was charged with of improper storage of hazardous waste, keeping a public nuisance and driving with a suspended license. He was released on $10,000 bail.
State Attorney Bill Eddins said more charges may be filed. Berkland’s attorney, Eric Stevenson, reportedly said that he and Berkland will start preparing their defense next week.
Crudely preserved brains, hearts, lungs and other organs and specimens were discovered in more than 100 containers last month in a Pensacola storage unit that Berkland rented for about three years. The unit was auctioned off after Berkland defaulted on his payments, according to an arrest affidavit.
Ten cardboard boxes stacked in a corner of the unit contained “numerous individual containers with … human remains stored in a liquid substance,” according to the affidavit.
Berkland declared the contents to be household goods, furniture, boxes, sporting goods and landscaping equipment. A man who bought the unit’s contents discovered the human organs after becoming overpowered by a strange smell while sifting through the items, authorities said.
Most of the containers were labeled. About half the containers were medical grade and the other half included soda cups and plastic food containers, according to the affidavit.
Authorities said the organs were stored in a liquid solution containing formaldehyde and methyl alcohol.
“The remains included tissue samples and dissected organs. (Investigators) also advised that there were numerous whole organs, including hearts, brains, a liver and a lung,” according to the affidavit.
Berkland worked at the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola from 1997. He was fired in 2003 for not completing autopsy reports. Berkland’s license to serve as a medical examiner in Florida was also withdrawn.
Before arriving Florida, Berkland was fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Missouri, in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His doctor’s license was ultimately revoked there.
The Penasacola’s medical examiner’s office said the organs found in the storage unit appear to have come from private autopsies Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in the Florida Panhandle and in Tallahassee.
Jeff Martin, director of the medical examiner’s office, said about 10 families have been notified that their relatives’ remains were in the unit.