Human Remains Found in Storage Unit of Former Fla. Medical Examiner

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Image Flickr/gruntzooki

A former medical examiner in Pensacola, Florida has been arrested after a search of his storage locker turned up human remains.

The remains were found when Phillip Knight bought the storage locker for about $1,000. Dr. Michael Berkland, 57 years old, had rented the locker for the past three years. After defaulting on his payments, the locker was auctioned off. Berkland had declared that the items inside the unit consisted of furniture, sporting goods, boxes, landscaping equipment, and household goods. Knight began sifting through the locker's contents when he was struck by a strange smell.

Opening the cardboard boxes revealed about 100 containers filled with tissue samples and dissected organs like hearts, brains, a liver and a lung. Half of the organs were placed in medical-grade containers; the other half were found in soda cups and fast food containers. One heart was in a Dodge's convenience store Styrofoam cup. The 32-ounce cup was leaking from the cracked lid.

The organs were stored in formaldehyde and methyl alcohol.

Berkland is being charged with improper storage of hazardous waste, nuisance injurious to public health and driving with a suspended license. Berkland posted his bond, which was over $10,000, and has been released.

Before moving to Florida in 1996, Berkland worked as a contract medical examiner in Jackson County, Missouri. He was fired because of a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His medical examiner's license was ultimately revoked from the state. Between 1997 and 2003, Berkland worked for the Florida Medical Examiner's office before being fired for an excessive backlog of cases and failing to complete autopsy reports in a timely manner.

The police believe that the human remains came from private autopsies Berkland performed at funeral homes in Pensacola, Panama City, Fort Walton Beach, and Tallahassee between 1997 and 2007.

Though the victims' names were not released, 10 families have been notified about relatives' remains in the storage unit. The organs are said to belong to 100 people.

Improper storage of hazardous waste is a felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. Nuisance to public health is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 60 days. The police said that more charges may be added.

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