M.E. in court for former morgue employee's hearing

March 2, 2012 4:18:46 PM PST
A former employee of the Cook County morgue appeared in criminal court Friday, charged with threatening to kill his co-workers.

In this Intelligence Report: The court appearance also attracted embattled county medical examiner Dr. Nancy Jones.

Throughout the crisis at the county morgue the past six weeks, chief medical examiner, Jones has not been heard from, despite numerous invitations from the I-Team to discuss management problems at the morgue.

Dr. Jones was camera shy again Friday when she showed up at a court hearing for a morgue employee who was recently fired. With her coat hoisted up over her face, instead of answering questions, Dr. Jones' conduct seemed to raise even more.

Autopsy technician Joel Neason worked at the county morgue for 23 years until last month. After county officials apparently informed Neason that he would face discipline for conditions at the morgue, Neason allegedly threatened to return to work with a gun.

Friday, the veteran employee was in court charged with assault.

"I'm confident Mr. Neason will be found not guilty," said Neason's lawyer, Myron Goldstein, who called the charges ridiculous.

"I think it's an absolute overreaction by all parties at the county morgue. They've got bigger problems to deal with than Joel Neason," Goldstein said.

Among them, continuing questions about mismanagement at the morgue in the six weeks since the I-Team first revealed disturbing photos of bodies piling up on the floor.

Nearly 80 bodies were buried in a mass grave a few weeks ago despite an offer from Catholic cemeteries to provide 300 gravesites for indigent burials free of charge.

Medical examiner Dr. Jones still has not publicly discussed the problems in her office. But, Friday, Jones appeared in the courtroom, standing next to the prosecution during her ex-employee's brief hearing.

Afterward, the I-Team offered Jones an opportunity to speak about the current morgue situation . The $230,000-a-year public employee not only dodged the questions -- she covered up her face as she raced to her county-provided car.

Jones was accompanied by Carmine Ruffolo, an investigator originally hired under the Stroger administration. Sources tell the I-Team Ruffolo has been appointed by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to monitor morgue timecard issues.

A spokeswoman for Preckwinkle says the state's attorney's office requested Jones' presence at court as a complaining witness in case someone needed to present any firsthand witness information. The spokeswoman also said Jones hid her face because she was "surprised" when the I-Team showed up.