I-Team Exclusive: Newton County manager wants newly-elected coroner removed from office

Jan. 22 in Newton County on Highway 212, a car left the roadway, drove through a ditch for 507 feet, then traveled back onto the highway and hit another car head-on. That's according to a Newton County Sheriff’s report. 

The newly elected Newton County coroner arrived at the scene of a deadly car wreck.  

According to sheriff’s department reports, Coroner Doretha Bailey-Butts took "a couple of photos" of the deceased, left "a body bag on the trunk of the deceased car" and then told police she "was leaving" without transporting the body.   

On a body camera video, you can hear the following exchange.

Deputy: You don’t have a van? 

Bailey-Butts: Oh, I don’t transport.

One deputy on the scene didn’t appear happy with her decision.

Deputy: You’re leaving a fatality? OK.

According to the deputy's report, someone called Sheriff Ezell Brown and, after the sheriff called Bailey-Butts, the newly-elected coroner agreed to transport the body.

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Bailey-Butts has been on the job for a little over one month. She was recently sworn in as Newton County’s newest coroner after she won an election against a 12-year veteran. She had high hopes for the job.

But by initially refusing to transport a body from the accident site, Bailey-Butts has found herself in the middle of a growing controversy.

Mark Savage is president of the Georgia Coroner’s Association. He says by law, it is up to the coroner to transport a body from the scene of an accident, a homicide, or suicide. 

"In the state of Georgia that falls on the Coroner’s Office," Savage said. 

Savage says it is critical for the coroner or medical examiner to be involved in the transport especially when there is a possibility of a crime being committed.

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"There could be possible evidence on that body. And the chain of custody of that body is very important," said Savage.

The FOX 5 I-Team has learned this auto accident is one of many issues spelled out in a petition to remove the coroner from office filed by the Newton County Manager. The petition was sent to Georgia Coroner’s Training Council.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr accused the new coroner of indicating "she would not be transporting bodies." 

And he was upset about comments she made at a recent county commission meeting. 

"This envelope I’m holding right here. It will break somebody’s heart what I’m holding right here," said Bailey-Butts during the meeting.

Kerr wrote in his removal petition during a recent commission meeting Bailey-Butts was asking for budget increases and held up an envelope and said she had information "to take Covington down."  

"If I open up this envelope I will shut Covington down," said Bailey-Butts.

In his petition, the county manager called it an "act of extortion."

Kerr also wrote that the new coroner hired three deputy chief coroners "without informing the county." And he wrote she mishandled a suicide and a death in a local hotel that took "3+ hours" to remove the body.

We emailed Bailey-Butts to ask her about the petition and ask her what was in the envelope she held up at the commission meeting.

She responded the contains "information the disclosure of which would be an invasion of personal privacy and are not required to be released." She declined our request for an interview. 

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