Two employees of the Cook County medical examiner's office have been fired in connection with a review of possible "misconduct or malfeasance" at the morgue, a spokeswoman for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Thursday.
After being suspended Tuesday and told he could be dismissed, one of those employees was charged with simple assault after he allegedly threatened to return to the morgue with a gun, officials said.
Joel L. Neason, 58, an autopsy technician, apparently did not make threats against a specific person, said Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for the Cook County sheriff's office. Neason was arrested at the morgue Tuesday and later released on his own recognizance, Bilecki said.
The review of operations at the morgue that led to the firings was launched last month following news reports that indicated a storage cooler was overcrowded with bodies, said Jessey Neves, a spokeswoman for Preckwinkle.
Neves said she could not be more specific about why the two employees were fired Wednesday, a day after they were suspended, noting that the former employees can still appeal their dismissals.
A third employee of the office is facing disciplinary action but has not been suspended, Neves said.
Preckwinkle ordered the review after learning a cooler designed to hold 300 bodies was filled beyond capacity. Photos sent to the media showed adult remains stacked on metal shelving and movable trays, sometimes two per shelf. The remains of infants were shown stacked atop each other. Most of the bodies were wrapped in blue plastic bags, in several cases with their limbs exposed.
The county's Bureau of Administration found late last month that 363 bodies were stored in the cooler, Preckwinkle said. Subsequent burials brought the number back to about 300, Preckwinkle said at the time.
Medical examiner Nancy Jones said last month that the overcrowding was "an anomaly" caused by the state's short-lived decision to cut funding used to cover burial costs for the poor.
Neves said the review of the facility extends beyond overcrowding.
"We're looking much broader than any one person, one incident," she said. "We're looking at the overall operation of the office."
Jones declined to common Thursday, referring questions to Preckwinkle's office.
Tribune reporter William Lee contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun