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Morgue Execs Must Face Claim Over Corpse Abuse

CINCINNATI (CN) - A former coroner and morgue director must face state law claims regarding the abuse of several corpses by one of their employees, a federal judge ruled.

Kenneth Douglas - currently in prison after being convicted of gross abuse of a corpse - worked at the Hamilton County morgue from 1976 to 1992, during which time he repeatedly drank and had sex while on the job, and sexually abused at least three female corpses.

"I would just get on top of them and pull my pants down," he said when confessing to the crimes.

The families of the women filed suit in 2010, and even though federal claims were dismissed, U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett refused to grant a motion for summary judgment on state claims filed by former coroner Dr. Frank Cleveland, former morgue director Bernard Kersker and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

The families' remaining claims are for negligent retention and supervision and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The defendants argued that the 6th Circuit's dismissal of federal claims "was fatal" to the plaintiffs' state claims, but Judge Barrett disagreed.

He wrote: "The Sixth Circuit's discussion ... is separate and apart from any analysis of a state law claim based on negligence or a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Judge Barrett cited the 6th Circuit's opinion on the case extensively while considering whether the plaintiffs had enough evidence to proceed with their allegations.

Quoting the opinion, He wrote: "There is significant evidence that by the time of the abuse of the two women, Kersker knew that Douglas was an alcoholic and knew that he drank and had sex while on duty at the morgue. Two witnesses ... said they told Kersker about the drinking and sex ... [and] others testified that Douglas came to work smelling like booze. ... This is sufficient for a jury to find that Kersker knew that Douglas was miss-using his time alone at the morgue."

Turing to Dr. Cleveland's culpability - and again quoting the 6th Circuit - Judge Barrett wrote: "If a jury were to conclude that Kersker knew of Douglas's actions, it could conclude that Dr. Cleveland, whom Kersker kept informed, also knew. ... Even if the jury found that Dr. Cleveland only knew about the serious dependability problems, a jury could conclude that he should have been more concerned about Douglas in general and instructed his subordinates to provide more supervision."

Judge Barrett ultimately concluded that "Because there still remains [sic] genuine issues of material fact as to knowledge on the part of Kersker and Dr. Cleveland, the County Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment."

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