Parish coroner says he lacks support from police jury 

Published 1:20 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — Concordia Parish Coroner Dennis LaRavia, who ran unopposed in 2019, said he may not seek another term in office after telling the police jury that he did not have its support on Monday.

Craig Hawn and Pam Poole both withdrew from the 2019 election, records from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office show.

In April, 68 percent of parish voters rejected a proposal to levy 3 mills tax on all property for 10 years for the purpose of “operating and maintaining facilities and equipment” for the Concordia Parish Coroner’s Office.

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After that election, LaRavia responded to The Democrat by saying perhaps the proposal could be put on another ballot, but with new leadership.

“Other parish offices receive $400,000 to $600,000 a year. My budget is $50,000,” LaRavia said at the time, adding he pays the part-time salary for an assistant out of his pocket. Without the position, LaRavia said he must be available to answer the phone 24-7, and he cannot be.

LaRavia added he intends to finish out his term, which ends in March 2024.

“We do a lot of things people take for granted,” he said. “I will complete my commitment for four years. It’s a job that a lot of people don’t want, but it’s essential to the parish. I’ve done the best I can for three years and without funds, I don’t know how I can continue to do so.”

The coroner’s office will be up for election on Oct. 14. Qualifying for the position is fewer than two weeks away on Aug. 8 through 10.

Other local offices in this election include Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Assessor, Police Juror, Justice of the Peace and Constable. Other statewide offices in the election include Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, Commissioner of Insurance, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 5, State Senators in the 32nd and 34th Senatorial Districts and State Representative in the 21st Representative District.

On Monday, LaRavia told the police jury they did not back his requests for funding and said, “I just thought it appropriate for me to give you all an update.”

“I was elected on March 2020 to serve four years as your coroner. I felt led by the Lord to do this job to establish a quality for our offices conducted with integrity and professionalism.”

LaRavia said he has extensive experience as a private clinician and served in the United States Army Reserve and National Guard for 20 years and retired as a colonel.

LaRavia said he also paid for his own training in forensic medicine and paid for supplies to open the office and build it from the ground up.

“There were no records. No support elements. We started with nothing,” he said. “I made a reasonable budget request in 2019 for 2020, a budget request for 2021, ‘22 and ‘23. My budget has been way below our needs, as in the case of most rural coroner offices.”

By state statute, LaRavia said it’s a requirement for the local governing body to provide for the financial needs of the coroner’s office, which he said has been “inadequate from the get go.”

He sought other funding avenues and put forth a new state law on the ballot allowing $5 from all felony and speeding fines in the parish to go to the coroner’s operating fund.

LaRavia estimated this law would’ve supplied the office with up to an additional $30,000 a year.

The law was approved by the House and Senate and went in affect in 2021, however, there was a workaround, he said.

“The problem was, (the law) said they ‘may’ instead of ‘shall,’” LaRavia said. “So, several things happened. Pressure was applied to the sheriff and so forth regarding his choice to not pass that money along to the coroner’s office. So, we got not one cent from that. I talked to Representative (Travis) Johnson to make an amendment to change ‘may’ to ‘shall,’ but he backed out on the last day when he said two or three members of the police jury said they were not supporting the bill.”

LaRavia said he went through another representative to make the same change and it passed the House, “but Senator Glen Womack killed the bill in the senate committee,” LaRavia said.

“He told me that two to three members of the Concordia Parish Police Jury said the coroner’s office had plenty of money. That is not correct. I pay the part-time salary of a secretary out of my personal money.”

LaRavia said his job responsibilities included responding to numerous calls to over 1,200 deaths in this parish in the last three years, arranging organ and tissue donations, dealing with frequent psychiatric and drug encounters, doing all research required to complete all death certificates, performing investigations required for all rape exams, infant deaths, children’s deaths, homicides and suicides.

“It is very frustrating to provide the services we do with five people in this parish without appropriate funding,” LaRavia said. “We travel throughout the parish to accomplish our mission simply because my investigators and I want to do the best job we can do. We have no other agenda. All of us use our own vehicles, use our own fuel to take care of these jobs. … I’m on call 24-7 for all deaths and problems that may occur. I’ve also been active in Louisiana Coroner’s Association. I serve as liaison for the rural coroners. I’ve done all that I can do to develop a coroner’s office that is well respected by the Louisiana State Police Department of Transportation, Department of Corrections and other coroners’ offices.

“Realistically, I feel it was important to relate these facts to you as I no longer see how I can serve without the needed support from this governing body. We provide these services which were administered to, I would say, somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 residents over the last three years and four months. I wish you well as you proceed with the future possibility of having untrained and unprofessional people performing these coroner duties.”

The police jury had no response to LaRavia’s statements during Monday’s meeting.