An investigator with the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office has been charged with stealing items, including a gold necklace, from two dead men, the authorities said.
The investigator, Adrian Muñoz, who had worked for the department since 2018, was charged with one felony count of grand theft of property and one misdemeanor count of petty theft of property, the county district attorney’s office said on Wednesday.
Mr. Muñoz, 34, would face a sentence of up to three years if he were convicted on all counts, George Gascón, the Los Angeles County district attorney, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
“It’s a profound betrayal of the very essence of the role and the solemn duty owed to both the deceased and their bereaved families,” Mr. Gascón said in a statement on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Muñoz was caught on camera in January removing a gold crucifix necklace from the body of Miguel Solorio, a warehouse worker who had died of a heart attack at his job in South Los Angeles. Mr. Muñoz placed the necklace in his medical bag and never returned or documented it, prosecutors said.
While searching Mr. Muñoz’s cubicle, Mr. Gascón’s office said, the authorities found rare antique coins along with a receipt with the name of a man, Jeffrey Alden, who had been found dead in November 2022. Mr. Muñoz had been investigating Mr. Alden’s death, too, prosecutors said. The coins were worth more than $950, according to a criminal complaint.
The authorities began investigating after Mr. Solorio’s family reported the theft to the district attorney’s office. Rosalba Solorio, Mr. Solorio’s daughter-in-law, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but she told The Los Angeles Times that her family was “happy the investigation didn’t just fall through the cracks.”
“They actually did something about it and hopefully we’ll see justice for my father-in-law,” she said.
Ms. Solorio told The Los Angeles Times that her father-in-law had worn the gold necklace for decades and was known for it. The necklace, which Ms. Solorio said had immense sentimental value, has yet to be returned to the family.
Mr. Muñoz was arrested on Wednesday morning and released in the afternoon without bail, according to jail records. His first court appearance has not been scheduled.
Mr. Muñoz and his lawyer did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment on Thursday.
“We can find no record showing that this office has previously charged an investigator from the medical examiner’s office,” Venusse Dunn, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said in an email.
Dr. Odey Ukpo, the chief medical examiner for Los Angeles County, said in a statement on Wednesday that his office “takes these allegations very seriously” and that it was assisting law enforcement and the district attorney’s office with the investigation. Mr. Muñoz has been “removed from county and department work duties pending the outcome of the criminal matter,” Kelly Vail, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office, said in an email.
At the news conference, Mr. Gascón expressed his “deepest empathy” to the families of the men. “They should never have to go through this,” he said, “and we will make sure that justice is served.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.