Trial to decide if coroner is unfair to black funeral homesApril 15, 2018 1:03pm

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal trial is scheduled to start Monday over claims by six black-owned funeral homes that a Mississippi Gulf Coast coroner illegally discriminates in favor of two white-owned competitors.

The dispute revolves around cases where Harrison County pays for a body to be picked up, stored, autopsied or buried. The case alleges federal civil rights and state law violations by the county coroner against a backdrop of a business that remains starkly segregated by race in the Deep South.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett, in pretrial rulings, has indicated the key question will be proving whether longtime Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove made the decisions about where to direct bodies in each instance. That suggests a long slog could be in store for the Gulfport court.

"Plaintiffs' burden is to prove that Hargrove discriminated when it fell to him to choose which funeral home to send a body," Starrett wrote. "Part of that requires proof that Hargrove made the decision."

Evidence shows the white funeral homes got 93 percent of the total business from 2012 to 2016, while black funeral homes got 7 percent. That includes burials of indigents, autopsy cases and bodies released by the coroner. Plaintiffs have argued that Hargrove used public money to maintain racial segregation and that each funeral home should have gotten one-eighth of the business. But they say the real monetary losses are in funerals the black-owned funeral homes didn't conduct, arguing that family members usually let a funeral home that received a body conduct services. The six black funeral homes say they're owed $870,000 in lost profits from 2012 to 2016. The expert who prepared that estimate had originally put the black funeral homes' losses at $6.4 million.

Starrett already threw a monkey wrench into the plaintiffs' case by disallowing their plan for a lawyer to testify about a summary of 5,281 coroners' files. The plaintiffs then scrambled to have paralegals prepare charts summarizing data, and Starrett has said he will allow most of those to be presented to a jury.

Plaintiffs argue there's still plenty of evidence that Hargrove discriminated against them when directing who would get county-controlled business. One black funeral home owner has testified that Hargrove once told her that "white bodies go to the white funeral homes and black bodies go to the black funeral home."

But Hargrove and Harrison County, which would have to pay damages, argue that in many cases, someone else chose. They say the deceased, their relatives and friends had made choices along racial lines, citing multiple indigent and autopsy files that show someone else besides Hargrove decided which funeral home should handle a body. When it comes to releasing bodies, Harrison County Board of Supervisors attorney Tim Holleman wrote that "in the vast majority of all of these files there is someone present who has priority over the coroner to make the decision as to which funeral home would handle the funeral services for their loved one."

The county and Hargrove also say that a now-deceased pathologist whom Hargrove didn't control did all his autopsies at white-owned funeral homes.

Starrett has also said the county can present evidence of racially divided funeral home choices from Harrison County deaths in which Hargrove didn't officiate, as well as from other Mississippi counties.

___

Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/Jeff_Amy .

Page 1 of 1

More Stories Like This

Judge: Kansas secretary of state in contempt in voting caseA federal judge says Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach violated her order that some Kansas voters were eligible to cast a ballot while a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring proof of US citizenship worked its way through the courts
The Latest: Trump administration vows to fight injunctionPresident Donald Trump's administration has criticized a nationwide injunction preventing it from withholding public safety grants from cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement policies
Ex-Michigan lawmaker asks for lawsuit to be reconsideredA former Michigan lawmaker who was expelled from office amid a sex scandal is asking a court to reconsider her lawsuit against the state House, legislators and staff
This photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Walter Leroy Moody. A federal appeals court has rejected the death row inmate's argument that Moody must serve out his federal sentence before Alabama can put him to death for the 1989 killing of a federal judge. He is scheduled to be executed Thursday, April 19, 2018, for killing 11th Circuit Judge Robert Vance with a bomb mailed to his home. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)
The Latest: 83-year-old Alabama mail-bomb killer is executed
Court sides with sanctuary cities in fight over grantsA federal appeals court in Chicago has ruled that President Donald Trump's administration cannot withhold public safety grants from cities that don't cooperate with its immigration enforcement
Coroner testifies he's 'colorblind' in funeral home lawsuitA Mississippi coroner says he's "colorblind" when it comes to spending public money at funeral homes, but attorneys for six black-owned funeral homes say two white-owned companies receive a disproportionate share
This component is currently unavailable.
AdChoices

Related Searches

Related Searches

AdChoices