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DoD: Documents support Dover Mortuary findings

Mar. 30, 2012 - 05:33PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 30, 2012 - 05:33PM  |  
Jo Ann Rooney, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, right, briefs the media March 30 about the release of "Appendix E" documents from the Dover Port Mortary timeline.
Jo Ann Rooney, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, right, briefs the media March 30 about the release of "Appendix E" documents from the Dover Port Mortary timeline. (Glenn Fawcett / Defense Department)
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Defense Department officials have released documents related to the Dover Port Mortuary that they say support an earlier finding of "gross mismanagement" and a "lack of clear command and authority" by the Office of Special Counsel.

Among the documents released Friday is the first investigation into allegations of mishandled remains by Port Mortuary officials at Dover Air Force Base, Del. That 2011 investigation by the Air Force Inspector General's Office found none of the allegations was substantiated because no laws were broken.

Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel,">lambasted the IG report last year.

"They haven't admitted that any rule, any regulation, any law was broken but for the missing body parts, and they haven't taken appropriate disciplinary action against the wrongdoers," Lerner told Air Force Times at the time.

The inspector general's report offers a window into how the Air Force justified its conclusions that none of the officials accused of wrongdoing had broken any laws.

In one incident at Dover, a fallen Marine's left arm was sawed off without his family's consent so that he could be buried in his uniform.

"These actions were necessary embalming/restorative procedures to properly preserve and properly restore the remains and comply with the wishes of the [family]," the inspector general's office found.

The Marine had lost most of his left arm in a roadside bomb blast, the report says. What was left was a 10-inch, charred piece of the upper arm that was perpendicular to the Marine's body and could not be moved.

That made it impossible for the Marine to be buried in his uniform, as his family wanted, so Quentin R. Keel, director of the Port Authority Mortuary Division at the time, ordered the bone to be sawed off, according to the report.

"The removal of the piece of bone was not done for any improper purpose or otherwise prohibited by any standard, rule, regulation or law," the report says.

The fallen Marine was treated with reverence and respect by all involved, the IG report found.

"Under the facts and circumstances of the case, the [family] was not required to be notified of the embalming and restorative procedures that were used to properly prepare and casket the remains in accordance with their wishes," the report says.

Even when the report found fault with officials at Dover, the investigator concluded that no one involved had broken the law.

In another case, a pouch that was supposed to contain a fallen soldier's remains was found to be empty, but Trevor Dean, also a former supervisor for the mortuary division, did not tell the Army.

Dean told an investigator that he did not need to tell the Army because once remains came to Dover, they were under Port Mortuary's purview.

Col. Robert H. Edmondson, commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation at the time, recalled to investigators how his boss asked if someone should be notified about the missing remains.

"Sir, at this point, I don't know what we could tell anyone other than the remains aren't where they are supposed to be," Edmondson replied, according to the report. "Let's conduct the command directed investigation. Let's work through the facts and then we'll know where the facts are going to take us."

In the end, the report faulted Dover for not keeping track of the remains, but it also found Dean was under no obligation to tell the Army about the missing remains.

The inspector general's office also determined the incident did not rise to the level of gross mismanagement.

The Office of Special Counsel has conducted two investigations one into the mishandling of remains and another into whistle-blower allegations and has urged the Air Force to take additional action against Edmonson, Dean and Keel, who">resigned Feb. 27.

Brig. Gen. Eden J. Murrie, director of Air Force Services, told reporters March 30 that the Air Force is capable of policing itself on Dover issues.

"Due process is being followed and there are ongoing disciplinary actions that will be completed in late- to mid-April," she said at a news conference.

Murrie declined to say what type of disciplinary actions these might be.

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