Emails: Coroners split over ‘Jelani Day Bill’

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Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 7:36 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - Local coroners are at odds over the ‘Jelani Day Bill’, passed earlier this year following the Illinois State graduate student’s 2021 disappearance.

Day went missing in August 2021, and authorities found his body in the Illinois River the following month, and it was identified a month after that. The LaSalle County Coroner ruled drowning was Day’s cause of death, but the manner in which the death occurred is still undetermined. That explanation led many to wonder why the FBI wasn’t involved with the case sooner, including Day’s mother.

A new Illinois law SB 3932, dubbed the ‘Jelani Day Bill’, was signed earlier this year requires coroners to notify the FBI three days after an unidentified body is found. Peoria County Coroner and former Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association President Jamie Harwood says the bill is a step forward.

“What could possibly go wrong if you have someone identified in three days with getting the FBI involved?” Harwood said. “What could go wrong with that?”

But other coroners say it’s not so simple. In new emails from mid May of 2022 obtained by 25 News, Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup calls the legislation “hurried” and criticized legislators who passed it.

“Another family gets a bill named after their loved one, another legislator gets a pat on the back for hurried, ineffectual, legislation and we coroners get punished by the media in spite of doing a great job,” he wrote in an email to member coroners.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Northrup says his opposition to the law is that his organization wasn’t brought to the table, and he says it doesn’t go far enough.

“It doesn’t require or do anything to provide us more resources,” Northrup said. “We can make the phone call, but the FBI doesn’t work for the Champaign County Coroner’s Office or any other coroner’s office... There’s too much focus on naming a bill after somebody specifically rather than making sure the bill is a good bill or has effectiveness in it.”

Northrup adds one month is a relatively quick time period to identify skeletal remains, but Harwood disagrees.

In response to that email, Harwood asked to perform a peer review of LaSalle County’s Jelani Day investigation, a common practice in his medical days, but he says the practice is uncommon amongst coroners. He says that request was met largely with silence.

“We should do our due diligence to make sure that we have done everything appropriately,” Harwood said. “And unfortunately the silence of the association with my request for a peer review really spoke volumes to me that they weren’t interested.”

Harwood resigned his position as president of ICMEA, in part because of the response he received.

LaSalle County Coroner Rich Ploch says he discussed the matter on the phone with Harwood. He says the investigation is still active, and thus he says they are not ready for a peer review.