Grand jury calls for removal of Douglas County coroner

Renee Godwin is serving her first term in office as Douglas County coroner

A grand jury wants Douglas County coroner Renee Godwin removed from office. 

The non-binding request came in a presentment made after months of investigation into complaints about how the first-time coroner runs her office. The grand jury reported that Godwin "has on several occasions seemingly abused her office and allowed for unethical or unprofessional (practices)..." 

The six-page presentment lists 26 recommendations and included photographs taken on a visit to the coroner's office in the Old Courthouse. Combined, the report paints a disturbing picture. 

Godwin had no experience when she beat a longtime incumbent in 2016. From the moment she took office, she faced public criticism. She tried but failed to convince county commissioners to nearly double her $32,000 a year part-time salary. A FOX 5 I-Team investigation uncovered examples of Godwin signing death certificates in cases she never worked. In fact, last year the part-time coroner only responded to 31 deaths. That's out of 318 overall, leaving the others to her deputy coroners. They get paid for each call.

"What I've been doing is administrative things in the office," she explained to us then.

The grand jury requested she review the accuracy of all death certificates before signing them. Godwin did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the FOX 5 I-Team about the grand jury's recommendations.

Douglas County grand jurors tour the local morgue

Several of them are controversial:

  • Get rid of Larry Bussey, Godwin's former campaign manager she hired to be her assistant. The grand jury said his duties are redundant. They want his assigned county car returned as well.
  • Clean up the morgue which is housed in the old courthouse below the county museum. Grand jurors say the storage of bodies there was "unacceptable," and an odor would float up to the museum where the public would be taking classes.
  • And because Godwin admitted under oath to them "that she does not have any leadership experience, any management experience of how to run an office, it is recommended that the Georgia Coroners Association remove the current Coroner from her position and appoint a fill-in for the duration of Ms. Godwin's term due to the lack of knowledge of the responsibilities of a coroner."

The group that could actually remove Godwin from office is the Georgia Coroners Training Council. A law put in place this summer allows them to revoke the certification of any coroner. Then the local probate judge could pick a replacement. The chairman of that council is Edgar Perry, the coroner of Turner County.

"I've received the grand jury report and forwarded it to the Attorney General," he said. "I'm waiting to hear back from them before we do anything."

He would not comment on the nature of the findings.