CINCINNATI – Hamilton County can be sued because a morgue attendant had sex with female corpses while at work, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
Kenneth Douglas admitted in court that he sexually abused three corpses while he was drunk or on drugs, but he had sex with up to 100 bodies, he said in a deposition.
“I would just get on top of them and pull my pants down,” said Douglas, who worked the night shift at the morgue from 1976 to 1992.
A jury might conclude the former coroner and morgue director failed “recklessly and wantonly” to supervise Douglas, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday in allowing the suit to continue.
The panel cited evidence that Douglas’ supervisors were aware he was drinking and also having sex with live women while on the job.
Douglas’ wife testified in a deposition that he reeked of sex when she picked him up from work. She said she called the coroner’s office and reported him, but the morgue supervisor told her to stop calling.
The families of the three victims sued the county in 2012.
Douglas, now 60, was convicted of gross abuse of a corpse in the cases of Karen Range, Charlene Appling and April Hicks.
Appling, 23, was six months pregnant when she was strangled in 1991. Douglas said he had sex with her body on the day she died.
Hicks, 24, fell from a third-story window and died from blunt trauma in 1991.
Range, 19, was murdered in her home by a door-to-door salesman in 1982. Her body was slashed and she was nearly decapitated.
Douglas also admitted to having sex with bodies being stored while awaiting autopsies.
Douglas’ crimes didn’t come to light until 2008 when DNA connected him to semen found in Range.
Range’s killer, David Steffen, had admitted slaying her but denied raping her.
In 2008, Douglas pleaded guilty in the Range case and was sentenced to three years in prison.
In 2012, he pleaded guilty again in the Appling and Hicks cases.
Their families sued that year.
It was the fourth time the county was sued for failing to protect bodies in the morgue.
“I can’t explain this at all,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said at the time.
Dr. Frank Cleveland was the coroner when Douglas sexually abused those three corpses. Cleveland died in 2011.
“If I hadn’t had anything to drink when I went to work, it wouldn’t happen,” said Douglas. “I would do crack and go in and drink and go in.”
Douglas’ wife said she called the morgue supervisor about her husband smelling like sex and alcohol after work.
“He said, ‘Whatever happens on county time and on county property is county business,’” said Douglas’ wife.
The county ignored the warning signs, according to Al Gerhardstein, one of the families’ attorneys.
“The county had plenty of notice that Douglas was coming to work and was present at work while he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs,” Gerhardstein said. “Had he been stopped, these women would not have been abused.”
The county argued it should not be held liable because the cases involved unknown criminal acts of an employee.
The appeals panel opinion upholds earlier rulings by a lower court, including rejecting federal constitutional violation claims by relatives of the women whose corpses were abused.
The prosecutor’s office is reviewing the appeals court opinion, a spokesperson said Friday.