New medical examiner set to take over troubled NE Florida office

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The medical examiner's office responsible for reviewing every homicide and unintended death in Jacksonville, Clay, Columbia, Nassau and Hamilton counties is getting a new boss.

Dr.  Robert Pietak, who is currently the interim medical examiner in Kansas City, was selected by a search committee for District Four and will take over an office that has been at the center of controversy for years.

He is expected to receive the appointment as chief examiner by Gov. Ron DeSantis soon. He will take over an office that has been plagued with overcrowding and poor conditions.

Pietak received glowing reviews from the search committee made up of officials from across our area, including people working in the State Attorney's Office and law enforcement. 

A background investigation indicated Pietak is solid. One review said his forensic abilities are exemplary. But when News4Jax looked further into that investigation, we found there are concerns about his administrative skills.

Dr. Carl Schmidt, the chief medical examiner in Detroit and who used to supervise Pietak, said he is “not sure Pietak would be a good chief medical examiner because he not a very effective administrator."

The report went on to say that Pietak is "reluctant to do more than he has to do” and “routinely does his work and then goes home adding he prefers riding his Harley instead of working.”

In his new role, Pietak would oversee an office where recent I-TEAM reports found the morgue was out of space, at times with bodies were left of the floor of the morgue. After those reports aired, a freezer trailer was brought in to store bodies.

The city has budgeted money for a new facility, but that is still years away. Last year, the City Council approved hiring more staff but it has been difficult to find people willing to work the hours needed and meet the qualifications for the positions.

The new medical examiner will have his hands full. While opioid deaths have slowed, the office is dealing with more homicides, motor vehicle fatalities and other deaths.

A call to Pietak on Thursday morning has not been returned.

The State Attorney's Office issued a statement saying Pietak was recommended by the search committee after an exhaustive nationwide search. 

"The District Four Committee unanimously determined Dr. Pietak to be the best candidate, and we welcome him to Jacksonville," spokesman David Chapman said.

Pietak is expected to start Monday as interim medical examiner.

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