Pickaway County Commissioners Balk At Paying Castro’s Autopsy Bill

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The Pickaway County Commissioners are questioning why local taxpayers are expected to foot the autopsy bill for Ariel Castro following his death at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient last month.

Brian Stewart, Pickaway County Commissioner, said the county received an $1,100 invoice for Castro’s autopsy from the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, which commissioners addressed at their regular meeting Tuesday.

Castro, convicted in August of holding three Cleveland women captive for nearly a decade, was found hanged in his cell at the Orient prison facility Sept. 3. Originally declared a suicide, officials now speculate his death could have been the accidental result of auto-erotic asphyxiation.

“The bill is from the Franklin County Coroner’s Office,” Stewart said. “When he was found in the cell, they transported him to OSU Medical Center in Columbus before they declared him dead. Once you go to Franklin County, they’re going to do an autopsy.”

According to the Ohio Revised Code, the cost of an autopsy is billed by the attending coroner’s office back to the county where the injury that caused the death occurred.

“We always get a bill for the cost if the injury occurred in Pickaway County,” Stewart said.

The commissioners, however, object to the notion that Pickaway County taxpayers should be liable for a death that occurred to an inmate in the custody of the state prison system.

“He’s in their custody, he’s their responsibility,” Stewart said. “The $1,100 isn’t going to bankrupt us, but it’s a bigger part of our budget than it is the state prison’s budget. He was technically in Pickaway County, but even though he was a state prisoner, our taxpayers get the bill. That doesn’t seem very fair, and we’ve got some questions about what we can do about it.”

Castro’s autopsy is not the first inmate death to be billed back to the Pickaway County Commissioners, however. Stewart said the most recent of which he is aware was a hanging death in November of 2012.

“When the bill comes across and it says Ariel Castro, it’s a little added insult to injury,” Stewart said. “We just feel we need to ask, is this really the most fair way to allocate costs of an autopsy?”

Dr. John Ellis, Pickaway County Coroner, said he also believes the state should be responsible for the cost of inmate autopsies.

“In my view, they’re in the protective custody of the state, so if there’s a bill, the state should have to pay it,” Ellis said. “Most of the inmates, including Castro, never, ever lived in Pickaway County outside of the prison and never paid a dime of taxes here. Ideally, the prison should pay for that.”

Autopsies are not the only expense incurred by the county in which a state prison resides, though. According to Judy Wolford, Pickaway County Prosecutor, her office frequently incurs expenses from inmates at the Orient facilities, which include the Correctional Reception Center (CRC) and Pickaway Correctional Institution (PCI).

“The county is responsible to prosecute all the crimes that occur in those facilities,” Wolford said. “This county pays for that, but the state provides us no additional funds to do it. It all comes out of the county’s budget.”

Stewart said Pickaway County has been billed for a total 21 autopsies this year, including Castro’s, at a cost of $24,500.