A Maine state medical examiner who fancies himself a comedian. What could possibly go wrong?
Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, Maine’s embattled chief medical examiner, has for the better part of a year been under the microscope for all kinds of eyebrow-raising activities.
But revelations last week go beyond previous questions about Flomenbaum’s competence and his moonlighting as a private consultant in addition to his day job.
Now we learn he makes jokes, on the internet, about dead people.
“It’s outrageous … that he has such a callous disregard for the sanctity of what it means to hold that job,” said state Rep. Jeff Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, who has several complaints pending against Flomenbaum with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the medical examiner.
The latest flap involves a listing for a deputy medical examiner posted on the National Association of Medical Examiners job website, among other places, in August 2017. Flomenbaum and Kirsten Figueroa, who left the AG’s office last winter to become commissioner of Maine’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services, are listed as the contacts.
The ad is pure boilerplate at first – workload, areas of responsibility, that sort of thing. But then, in a list of bullet points detailing why Maine is “an ideal environment” for a forensic pathologist, the post takes a sudden lurch into the macabre.
Calling Maine “a winter mecca” for various outdoor sports, it adds parenthetically, “translation: really short season of decomposed bodies.”
Lauding Maine’s “vast waterways and enormous coastline ideal for aquatic and marine sports,” it quips: “translation: many bodies are lost at sea or wind up in either New Hampshire or Canada.”
On our relatively small population distributed over a large area: “translation: only the bodies that really need to come in for autopsies will do so.”
If he was serious, Flomenbaum has a truly bizarre way of looking at the state that in 2018 paid him just under $280,000 in salary and benefits to pick up where death, often violently or tragically, leaves off.
And if he was joking, well, maybe the man needs a long sabbatical.
Some undoubtedly will dismiss the ad as gallows humor, that built-in defense mechanism that serves as an emotional shield for those who regularly deal with horrendous situations. But a wisecrack in the relative privacy of a police station or trauma center or, for that matter, autopsy room, is one thing – a momentary stress reliever intended for the benefit of a small, sympathetic audience.
A posting on the internet? That’s public. That sticks around. That’s a statement to the world about who you are and how you view work that, by any societal measure, is no joke.
“They can have their funny moments whenever,” Evangelos said. “But this was the job posting for the deputy medical examiner. Gimme a break.”
The medical examiner’s office declined a Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald request for an interview on Friday. The AG’s office did not respond to a request for an interview. Contacted via his cellphone on Saturday, Flomenbaum refused to speak on the record.
And from Gov. Janet Mills, on whose watch as attorney general the ad went out, we got only this from spokesman Scott Ogden on Friday: The governor “has a great deal of respect for and confidence in Dr. Flomenbaum and his office.”
This is the same medical examiner who 12 years ago was fired in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Deval Patrick after an investigation found that state’s medical examiner’s office “on the verge of collapse.” They’d even lost track of a body.
The same medical examiner who, as part of his Lincoln Forensics LLC consulting gig, was found “not credible” as a defense witness in a 2016 Connecticut manslaughter trial involving the fatal beating of a 3-year-old girl. The prosecutor, who won the case, went so far as to alert then-AG Mills that Maine might want to disclose Flomenbaum’s credibility problem when he testifies in court cases here.
It’s the same medical examiner whose last-minute change of opinion on the angle of a gunshot caused a mistrial last February in the murder trial of Noah Gaston. Fortunately, following a retrial that proceeded without incident, a jury on Friday found Gaston guilty of murdering his 34-year-old wife, Alicia.
And it’s the same medical examiner who cited “acute and chronic alcoholism” as contributing to the heart-and-diabetes-related death of Appalachian Trail hiker Jeff Aylward, 63, who was found dead near his Rangeley campsite in August after having no contact with his family for 13 days.
Late Friday, under pressure from Aylward’s widow, Ann, and two private experts who said the alcohol in Jeff Aylward’s system was actually the result of the body’s decay, Flomenbaum quietly removed any mention of alcoholism from his report. Under “major findings,” he included “moderate postmortem putrefaction,” which is known to produce sometimes high levels of alcohol in the body as it decomposes.
Any one of these flubs would be enough to wonder if Maine is getting its money’s worth from this guy. Taken together, it’s hard to grasp how the normally no-nonsense Gov. Mills still has “a great deal of respect for and confidence in” him.
Now, on top of it all, we discover that Flomenbaum likes Maine for its “short season on decomposed bodies” and sees our rivers and bays as conduits for whisking our corpses to other jurisdictions.
“Flomenbaum has no credibility left, yet it is to him who our prosecutors look to for ‘evidence’ that ends up imprisoning Mainers,” Evangelos said in an email on Saturday. “It’s beyond belief and I expect his lack of credibility will continue to plague our court proceedings.”
Contacted Saturday at her home in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Ann Aylward said she had not yet heard about the medical examiner’s ghoulish job posting. After hearing it read to her, she said she was disgusted but not surprised.
Aylward said she felt early on after her husband’s death that Flomenbaum had no interest in hearing her objections to the alcohol finding – because of his diabetes, she has maintained, Jeff Aylward stopped drinking alcohol 15 years ago.
Her inability to get Flomenbaum on the phone – all of her dealings, she said, were with a subordinate – eventually convinced Aylward that she’d only succeed at clearing her husband’s name if she took on the medical examiner publicly.
Apparently, it worked.
“He never picked up the phone. He never spoke to us. He never even made the attempt,” Alyward said, adding that the not-so-funny job posting only confirms to her that “something’s not right” with Flomenbaum.
“If that’s how he has to find his peace in the work that he does, he needs to get out of that work,” she said. “He needs to get out of that job.”