The history of death investigation in Georgia has been well-documented by Dr. Randy Hanzlick, the former Chief Medical Examiner for Fulton County, GA. You can read his full accounting of the death investigation system in Georgia at www.fultoncountyga.gov.
Below, reproduced with his permission, in italics, are excerpts from the history that Dr. Hanzlick has collected that concern Cobb County specifically or at the statewide level.
Until the 20th century, the United States continued to follow the tradition of the British law system, and deaths were investigated by the coroner.
“For the first 53 years of the 20th century, coroners continued to operate under the principals of English common law as clarified and set forth by the General Assembly’s act of 1823, and as codified several times after that date including Georgia Code 21-2 as established in 1933. When coroners needed a physician to perform a postmortem examination, they would have to rely upon whomever was willing and available to perform such examinations. Often, perhaps, medical examinations just didn’t take place. The laws did not provide specifically for physicians to assist in death investigations. It occurred mainly by happenstance.
“It was not until 1953 that the first major change in death investigation occurred in 20th century Georgia. In that year, Code Section 21-2 was repealed. In its place, a new Code 21-205 was enacted and titled “The Georgia Postmortem Examinations Act.” It was substantially similar in many respects to the 1954 “Model Postmortem Examinations Act” put forth by the National Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. Obviously, Georgia had gotten early wind of the Model Act and was timely in including some its provisions, which concentrated on a move toward so-called “medical examiner systems” which could be developed in place of the time-honored coroner systems. By 1954, some regions of the country had already abolished the office of coroner and established a system in which physicians were appointed as “medical examiners,” New York City being one example and having done so in 1918. Such systems spread in the mid-20th century, especially in the northeastern United States.
“The 1953 Georgia Postmortem Examinations Act did not dramatically alter the law related to coroners. What it did do, however, was establish law for a system that would improve death investigation services state wide by providing for more organized availability of postmortem examinations. It also provided, in conjunction with other state laws, that a county could abolish the office of coroner and establish in its place a county medical examiner system. The Georgia Postmortem Examinations Act of 1953 described the types of deaths that needed to be investigated by coroners and medical examiners; provided for the Director of the Division to serve as the State’s Chief Medical Examiner; detailed the requirements to run for the office of coroner; described procedures for coroner’s inquests and the other duties coroners could perform; detailed the roles and interactions of the coroner, medical examiner, law enforcement agencies, and DOFS; and included provisions for counties that wished to abolish the office of coroner and establish a medical examiner system. The Act was originally Code Section 21-205, was modified slightly through the years and was renumbered Georgia Code Title 45 where the death investigation laws reside today. Georgia Code 45-16-1 began with the laws related to coroners, and section 45-16-20 began the section formally titled “The Georgia Postmortem Examinations Act” which described all the specific of death investigation procedures in Georgia. Today, the law is called “The Georgia Death Investigation Act.”
“At present, 5 Georgia Counties have abolished the office of Coroner to establish a County Medical Examiner. These are, in order, Fulton (1965), Cobb (1973), DeKalb (1981), Gwinnett (1989), and Clayton (2001).
“Prior to 1973, the Cobb County Coroner relied upon a local hospital pathologist, Dr. Scherer, to perform autopsies for the county. Dr. Stivers, who was Medical Examiner for Fulton County, eventually provided autopsy services for the coroner, replacing Dr. Scherer. There was no serious opposition to the abolition of the office of coroner and the idea had support of the District Attorney and others. In 1973, Cobb County abolished the Office of Coroner and Dr. Stivers became the Medical Examiner on a contract basis. Subsequently, Dr. Stivers made a choice to concentrate his efforts in Fulton County, and he recruited William Anderson, MD, who had trained in North Carolina, to become the Medical Examiner in Cobb County around 1977. Dr. Joe Burton, who had trained in Miami, was also performing some autopsies for Cobb County. About one year later, in 1978, Dr. Burton acquired the contract to serve as Cobb County Medical Examiner. He remained in that role until February of 1999 when his associate, Dr. Brian Frist, assumed the contract as Chief Medical Examiner. Dr. Frist had gained his forensic pathology experience working with Dr. Burton in the DeKalb County Medical Examiner Office (see below). Originally, autopsies were performed in Kennestone Hospital in Cobb County, but in the mid-1980’s, a free standing medical examiner complex was constructed near the police department in Marietta.”
In 2014, Dr. Frist retired. Then Cobb County hired two board-certified forensic pathologists to serve as Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Examiner.
Dr. Christopher Gulledge completed pathology residency training at the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill and his fellowship training in forensic pathology at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill, NC. He then practiced forensic pathology in Charlotte, NC prior to joining the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Decatur, GA. Dr. Gulledge was hired by Cobb County as the Chief Medical Examiner starting March of 2015.
He was joined by Dr. Cassie Boggs as the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner in May of 2015. Dr. Boggs had completed her residency training at Virginia Commonwealth University Hospital System in Richmond, VA and her forensic pathology fellowship training at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, MD. She then worked as an associate medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Decatur, GA prior to coming to Cobb County.