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Niagara County may be sued over coroner's theft of brain tissue from car crash victim

Niagara County will have to defend itself against a lawsuit over the theft of brain tissue by a county coroner from the body of a man killed in a 2012 auto accident.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court last week reinstated the lawsuit filed by the parents of the man killed in the crash.

The coroner, Russell Jackman II, gave the brain tissue to Cambria Fire Chief Vincent Salerno for Salerno's use in training dogs to find corpses. Both the coroner and the fire chief pleaded guilty to obstructing governmental administration, received conditional discharges and resigned their offices.

Tissue from Richard Dunn's brain was taken at the scene of his death on Saunders Settlement Road in Cambria on April 13, 2012.

Six years ago, Dunn's parents, Danny and Anita Dunn, sued the county and the Cambria Volunteer Fire Company, as well as Jackman and Salerno personally, for "negligent infliction of emotional distress."

Two years ago, State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Furlong threw out the suit filed against Niagara County. Furlong also ruled out the fire company as a defendant. The five-judge appellate panel in Rochester agreed with his decision about the fire company.

The appellate judges, however, ruled the lawsuit against the county should proceed because Jackman might have been acting "within the scope of his employment" when he stole the tissue.

The then-coroner's action might have been for "a work-related purpose, rather than Jackman's own personal interests," the court ruled.

There is no evidence that Salerno accepted the brain tissue for anything but personal interests – not for those of the fire company, the appellate court decided.

So, Furlong ruled correctly to remove the fire company as a defendant, the Rochester panel decided.

Attorneys involved in the case did not respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

The appellate court ruled last year that the county does not have to provide Jackman a defense attorney.

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