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Q&A with Coroner Tommy Davis
Tommy Davis

COVINGTON, Ga. - On Aug. 13 and Nov. 12, The Covington News published the first two installments of questions with Newton County Coroner Tommy Davis. In these questions, we have opened the floor for reader-submitted questions to help clarify the elected position.

As promised, Davis’ answers will be featured in The News as a quarterly series. If you have any questions you would like to have answered about the coroner’s office, please email them to and they could be included in the next publication of the series.

What other positions would you like to know more about? Send us your suggestions for future quarterly Q&A subjects and we will do our best to get them answered by the respected official.

The News: What is the coroner’s role when it comes to the sheriff’s office? Can you arrest the sheriff?

No, that's not actually the case as proof by the DeKalb County Sheriff's unfortunate arrest recently.  Any person with arrest powers can arrest a sheriff if that sheriff needs to be arrested. The way it works is if the sheriff can't do his job or refuses to do his job for some reason then the coroner can be appointed as the sheriff and carry out those duties.  In counties such as DeKalb that don't have a coroner the governor appoints a person to carry out the sheriff's duties until the matter is taken care of or, if it comes to it, a special election would be held if that sheriff was removed from office or died. We have a good sheriff here, Sheriff Brown and I have always had a great working relationship that goes back quite a few years when he was an investigator and I was the deputy coroner.

The News: How does a Newton County citizen go about getting a death certificate?

Death certificates are originated by the funeral home that the family used to handle the services. The death certificate contains vital information that is obtained by the funeral home during the arrangement conference. That certificate is then sent to either the medical doctor or to the coroner for the cause and manner to be listed there and signed by that certifier. The death certificate is then returned to the funeral home where certified copies can be obtained for the family or the certificate simply filed with the local vital records registrar, in Newton County that is the Probate Court. The State of Georgia charges $25 for the first copy and $5 for each additional copy.

The News: What is the autopsy process and how long does it take to get results back?

The autopsy process can vary by case. An autopsy does not always mean a complete external and internal examination of the deceased has to be done. The medical examiner starts with the investigation of the scene performed by the coroner’s office and the local law enforcement agency where the death occurred. The doctor takes that information and starts with the comparison of the scene investigation to the external examination of the body. After that is done the doctor then measures the body and documents all scars, tattoos, trauma and visible findings before beginning the internal examination which includes all regions of the body. The findings of the autopsy along with the scene investigation and the results of any additional testing are all consider by the medical examiner when the final determination as to the cause and manner of death are completed. In some cases the cause and manner of death are determined immediately at autopsy while other cases such as drug-related death or those deaths where additional testing is required can take up to 90 days or more before the determination can be completed. We do not make speculations as to the cause and manner of death before these test results are returned. We recognize that this can cause delays for the family in processing some of the business matters that they are faced with and do our best to complete the death certificate in a timely manner.

The News: What is the difference between what your office does and the GBI Crime Lab?

The difference between the duties of our coroner’s office, or for that matter any of the 155 coroner’s offices throughout the state, and the GBI Crime Lab is tremendous. The duties of the coroner’s office are to investigate the deaths that occur in our county or as a result of an incident that occurred here in Newton County. We are tasked with gathering all the circumstances, medical history, details from the incident and determining if the need is present to consult with the medical examiner. The GBI Crime Lab is a large office that consists of many divisions, including the State Medical Examiner’s Office. The GBI State Medical Examiner’s Office is the division that we use to determine cause and manner of death when the cases warrant. This office also conducts all the autopsies and submits both tissue and blood for further testing. Some of those tests are conducted through the crime lab and others have to be out-sourced.

The News: Why are some bodies sent to the GBI?

When a death occurs and the investigation leads us to consult with the GBI State Medical Examiner’s Office and the medical examiner sees it necessary to perform an autopsy the deceased is transported to that office by a member of our staff. At that point our scene investigation findings are given to the medical examiner so that the scene and the examination of the body can be compared. On scene we look at the position when found, lividity present, rigor mortis present, the circumstances of how the deceased was found, the medical history of the deceased, any visible signs of trauma, the surroundings, any medicine or drugs present and all other information that can be important to the cause and manner of death.