Jeffrey Rouse opts out of Orleans coroner’s race; Dwight McKenna to be first black coroner

Dr. Dwight McKenna

NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse announced today that he is pulling out of his re-election bid, making his opponent, Dr. Dwight McKenna, the first African-American to serve as coroner when Rouse’s current term ends.

“It has been an honor to serve our community as your coroner over the past four years; however, I have decided that the best way for me to use the lessons I’ve learned from the coroner’s office is to expand my clinical role on the front lines of the city’s mental health crisis — by serving patients with severe psychiatric illnesses who are involved in the criminal justice system,” Rouse said in a prepared statement. “The mental health crisis in our city is real, and I am refocusing my professional energies in that direction.”

McKenna, a former Orleans Parish School Board member who served nine months in federal prison for tax evasion, is 75 years old.

McKenna and Rouse were in a runoff for the office of coroner in 2014. Rouse won. It was the first time a new coroner was elected in Orleans Parish in more than 40 years.

Rouse touted the following achievements during his one term as coroner:

  • Improved the death investigation process by creating a full team of medicolegal death investigators.
  • Intervened in the city’s mental health crisis by exercising power to commit individuals with severe mental health illnesses to institutions for treatment.
  • Brought transparency to the investigation of deaths that occur in the custody of law enforcement agencies to renew the community’s faith in this office and the criminal justice agencies supported by the office.
  • Improved the efficiency of the Coroner’s office with a digital records system and improved case completion times so that the office can fulfill its role as an integral part of the criminal justice system.

Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse

“I reluctantly qualified for re-election several weeks ago based upon my commitment to serve our city.  After careful consideration, I have determined the best way for me to do that is to refocus on my clinical and forensic psychiatric professional practice,” Rouse said. “In this work, I have the opportunity to prevent more suffering and death before the Coroner’s office gets involved. To that end, I am withdrawing my candidacy for the upcoming election.”

Rouse said he has met with McKenna and is “convinced that his plan … is the logical next step for the evolution of this office.”

“In the remaining months of my term, I shall share with Dr. McKenna the many facets of this complicated job, as one physician transferring the care of a patient to a colleague,” Rouse said.