Tarrant County Medical Examiner
Whenever we are called upon to assist, even if it is outside the defined jurisdiction, out of scope of our duties, or otherwise removed from our responsibility under the law, it is our general policy to help the individual reach the appropriate person, agency or organization who can assist.
In the United States, there are three systems of medico-legal investigation of death. These include the Coroner's System, the Justice of the Peace System and the Medical Examiner System. Some states, such as Texas, have a dual system, which includes both the Justice of Peace and Medical Examiner's Systems.
Any system that deals with medico-legal death investigation, must apply the rule that as far as possible eye witness accounts must be verified by evidentiary investigation in order to establish the truth. Evidentiary investigation necessitates creating a systems approach that allows such evidence to be analyzed scientifically. The system should be free of influences from the outside and must be empowered to conduct independent investigations, independent of the police and other law enforcement agencies. The application of a systems approach is naturally influenced by (1) local laws, (2) societal norms but most of all by (3) resources made available. Such a system must include a central facility with a secure place to preserve and examine human remains and forensic laboratories to verify and reach a scientific conclusion worthy of being admitted to a Court of Law.
The Tarrant County District Medical Examiner's District is an example of such a system. It serves four counties: Tarrant, Parker, Denton, and Johnson in the state of Texas with a combined population exceeding 2 million. It is governed and legislated by Section 49.25 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and its primary function is to serve the public, even when it is clearly outside the scope of mandated responsibilities. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office attempts to identify and explain both the cause and manner of death in cases where the death has occurred unattended or unexplained, and where the death is due to unnatural causes or suspicions of unnatural causes.
In December 1965, T.C. Terrell, M.D. was appointed by the Tarrant County Commissioner's Court to be the Chief Medical Examiner for Tarrant County. In 1969, Feliks Gwozdz, M.D. replaced Dr. Terrell. After the unexpected death of Dr. Gwozdz in 1979, Nizam Peerwani, M.D., then a Deputy Medical Examiner, assumed the responsibilities of the Chief Medical Examiner. The first countywide central morgue was established on the campus of the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth in 1980. The first forensic laboratories were established in 1982 and included Toxicology and Histology laboratories. Shortly thereafter, Forensic Dentistry was established to assist the Office in human identification. In 1986, Parker County officially joined Tarrant County to form a District Office. Denton County joined the District in 1989 and Johnson County joined in 2008. With the successful passage of a bond election, the new Office with its laboratories was constructed in 1988-89. Today, the Office boasts an array of state-of-the-art laboratories including the original but expanded Forensic Toxicology, Histology and Human Identification laboratories.