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Attorney general removes coroner from office

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a petition of quo warranto on Thursday morning, Feb. 8, to remove Cape County Coroner Wavis Jordan, pictured, from office. File photo

Cape County Coroner Wavis Jordan may not have to wait to lose an election before he leaves office permanently.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a petition of quo warranto on Thursday morning, Feb. 8, to remove Jordan from office. (Quo warranto is a legal action requiring a person to show by what warrant or authority he holds his office. Bailey’s petition repeatedly alleges Jordan has forefetited his office by failing to do his duty.)

Circuit Judge Jerel L. Poor signed a preliminary order in quo warranto later that same day which immediately removed Jordan from performing his duties as coroner. By state statute, Cape County Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson has assumed all the administrative duties of the coroner’s office until further notice.

The preliminary order removes Jordan from office while the quo warranto process works its way through the courts.

“The judge has granted our preliminary order for quo warranto against Cape Girardeau Coroner Wavis Jordan,” Bailey stated Thursday afternoon. “During the pendency of our case, Jordan will not be able to exercise any authority as the coroner. We are moving forward undeterred in our quest to obtain justice for the victims in this case.”

Bailey also filed criminal charges against Jordan, alleging that he committed one count of misdemeanor stealing by taking cash from a dead man’s wallet and three counts of providing false information to vital records by lying multiple times about the cause and manner of death.

“As Attorney General, I will always work to hold accountable those who refuse to do their job as required by Missouri statute,” said Bailey Thursday morning. “My heart goes out to the victims in this case, whose lives have been upended.”

Quo warranto:

The petition for quo warranto asserts that Jordan failed to do his duty when he:

1. Stole property and attempted to steal property he was obligated to safeguard.

On April 18, 2023, he allegedly stole a small amount of cash from one decedent’s wallet. (On July 11, 2022, he unsuccessfully attempted to steal $130 cash from a different decedent’s wallet.)

2. Knowingly entered the wrong cause of death for decedent C.K. after his death on or about Jan. 8, 2022.

3. Knowingly entered the wrong cause of death for decedent G.S. after his death on or about May 2, 2021.

4. Knowingly entered the wrong cause of death for decedent D.T. after his death on or about Nov. 18, 2022.

5. Failed to properly investigate the causes and manners of death of several individuals and failed to take the necessary steps to be prepared to investigate causes and manners of death.

6. Failed to obtain blood from decedents M.H. on Nov. 29, 2022, and D.L. on Jan. 23, 2023. Both died in motor vehicle accidents, and the blood, if it had been drawn, would have been checked for alcohol content or for evidence of marijuana use.

7. Solicited family members regarding the funeral arrangements of A.Z., a person who died Dec. 10, 2023.

The family said they wished to use McComb’s Funeral Home, but Jordan said, “I really think Ford and Sons would be better, so I’m going to call them.” By overriding the wishes of the family, Jordan violated state law which prohibits solicitation by the coroner or his deputy regarding the funeral arrangements of the deceased.

The petition concludes by asking the Court to remove Jordan from office immediately.

Criminal charges

In addition to filing the petition, Bailey filed four criminal charges against Jordan: one count of stealing without consent, a Class D misdemeanor; and three Class E felony counts of providing false information to vital records.

According to the felony complaint issued by Assistant Attorney General Gregory Goodwin (who is serving as the special prosecuting attorney for the County of Cape Girardeau) and the probable cause statement filed by Officer Donald Perry, on or about April 18, 2023, Jordan took a small amount of cash from the wallet of a suicide victim.

The wallet, which had been lying on a bookshelf, had been photographed with cash in it by a police officer. When the officer later discovered the wallet missing from the shelf, he found it in Jordan’s possession without the cash. Jordan had taken the wallet outside to his vehicle. When asked where the cash was, Jordan replied, “I might be wrong, but I didn’t see anything,” according to the probable cause statement.

The three felonies involve separate cases of knowingly entering the manner of death as being “natural” and entering the cause of death as being “myocardial infarction” in the first two cases and “acute cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction” in the third case.

Jordan reported these manners and causes of deaths, even though there were reasonable grounds to believe the first two had committed suicide and the third had died of a drug overdose.

The petition explains that when a user selects “natural” as the manner of death, the electronic death registration system requests less information. When suicide is listed, there are many more boxes that must be filled in, and this may have been a contributing factor to Jordan failing or refusing to fulfill his duty to investigate eligible deaths.

When he took his oath of office, Jordan swore to discharge the duties of his office of Cape Girardeau County Coroner “with fidelity.”

It is his duty to take charge of the dead body and fully investigate the essential facts concerning the medical cause of death and the manner of death in cases where there is reasonable ground to believe that the person died as a result of violence by homicide, suicide, or accident; or where there is reasonable ground to believe that the person died in an unusual or suspicious manner, the petition in quo warranto states.

It is Jordan’s duty, according to state statute, to accurately report the cause of death and manner of death through the electronic death registration system to the Department of Health and Senior Services for placement on the death certificate.

If convicted of these four criminal charges, Jordan faces up to 12 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Bailey reminds the public that the charges against Jordan are allegations and, as in all criminal cases, the defendant is presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in a court of law.

Cape County response

The Cape Girardeau County Commission is aware of the petition and the criminal charges.

The commission will actively monitor the legal proceedings and will act accordingly when judicial directives are issued by the Court.

In a press release, the commission stated, “It is essential to allow the legal proceedings to unfold independently and impartially.”

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at cashbook@mvp.net.

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