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Sheriff probes leaks by coroner's employees in Jackson case

L.A. County supervisors want to know if the singer's private records were breached and if information from his death investigation was illegally disclosed or sold.

July 25, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators launched an inquiry Friday into whether county coroner's employees illegally leaked or sold private information from Michael Jackson's death investigation, a sheriff's spokesman said.

"They just want to make sure that nothing criminal has occurred," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

He said sheriff's investigators contacted the coroner's staff Friday and planned to handle the inquiry with the district attorney's office.

Whitmore said they were asked to investigate by county supervisors.

Supervisors also have called for a county audit of the coroner's office, said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Reached late Friday, county auditor-controller Wendy Watanabe said an audit has been scheduled but is unrelated to the Jackson probe.

"There's sufficient enough concern about what's going on in the coroner's office" to merit the investigations, Ridley-Thomas said.

Coroner's spokesmen did not respond to e-mail or phone calls late Friday.

Craig Harvey, the chief coroner's investigator, has said employees who inappropriately viewed Jackson's records were warned -- the proper discipline according to county civil services rules -- and that no further investigation was needed.

Supervisors were troubled by graphic descriptions of Jackson's body that surfaced in British tabloids and the New York Post before his funeral July 7, Ridley-Thomas said.

Two weeks ago, they called a private meeting with coroner's officials to discuss their concerns, he said.

"It was made abundantly clear that the environment had to be managed in such a way that there were no press leaks," Ridley-Thomas said.

"We also made it clear that any breaches would be viewed as being very problematic."

After The Times reported this week that the pop star's death certificate had been viewed more than 300 times, including by half a dozen coroner's employees not involved in the investigation, supervisors contacted the sheriff's office, Ridley-Thomas said.

Ridley-Thomas said supervisors are concerned not only about the privacy of Jackson's records, but also whether leaks at the coroner's office could get the county sued.

"You can't have the county exposed to a lawsuit because of the inappropriate handling of matters," he said.

Whitmore said the inquiry will take about a week.

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molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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