s skippy the bush kangaroo: scarborough country of the dead

skippy the bush kangaroo

Friday, July 14, 2006

scarborough country of the dead

[ed. note: welcome, raw story & moderate voice & american politics journal readers! when you're finished here, click on the big kangaroo logo to the right, and see the whole blog!]

via raw story (via first draft via dependable renegade), we find a miamai herald piece which reports that katherine harris is believed to have first started to lose it when she wanted to begin a whispering campaign about joe scarborough and his dead staffer, lori klausutis:

katherine harris' floundering u.s. senate campaign lost its high-level staff again this week and is groping for a message -- which doesn't surprise republican insiders who trace the seeds of her trouble to the story of "joe's dead intern."

this wasn't any old joe.

it was joe scarborough, host of the prime-time msnbc show scarborough country and a former pensacola republican congressman who was courted last summer by national republicans to run against harris. but before he could announce he wouldn't, harris called major donors and suggested scarborough would have to answer questions about the strange death of a former staff member in 2001, according to two former high-level harris staff members, a gop donor and scarborough.

"that was the first clue that something wasn't right with katherine harris," scarborough told the miami herald in a recent interview, noting that a medical examiner found his staff member's death was natural and not the result of foul play.
well, we never thought we'd hear ourselves say this, but...

we agree with katherine harris.

even before skippy international set up its headquarters to bring you the best in blogtopia (y!wctp!), we had been following the strange story of lori klausutis, wondering why this never became a scandal along the lines of gary condit/chandra levy, which happened at approximately the same time.

lori was a staff member of congressman joe scaroborough, and one day her dead body was found in the congressman's fort walton beach office. the medical examiner quickly pronounced it a death of natural causes, there was a short blurb in the washpost about it, scarborough resigned from congress, and nothing was ever mentioned again, much to our dismay.

denis wright and chris george wrote in ampoljo:

the story was simply dropped. a young female employee of one of florida's congressmen had died unexpectedly in the congressman's office. there were no witnesses to her death and the cause of death was not apparent. klausutis' boss, joe scarborough had recently resigned from congress prematurely and unexpectedly, amid rumors about his marital fidelity and soon after a divorce. he had also abruptly resigned as publisher of the independent florida sun, claiming that resigning from congress and as publisher was necessary to spend more time with his sons.

…on friday, july 20th, the body of lori klausutis, 28, was found slumped next to a desk on the floor of florida republican congressman joe scarborough's fort walton beach office where lori had served as a constituent services coordinator since may, 1999. her body was found around 8:00 a.m. on friday morning by a couple arriving for an appointment. she had been dead for some time. a second employee, who would have normally arrived for work at around the same time, was away on vacation. police cordoned off the area for investigation, later announcing that there was no reason to suspect foul play, nor were there signs of suicide.
among the causes for suspicion, which probably helped fuel katherine harris' demented dreams, was the fact that scarborough himself told reporters that lori had a "complicated medical history" including "stroke and epilepsy," tho this was absolutely not true.

to further muddy the waters, the medical examiner concluded that lori had suffered from a previously-undiagnosed heart arrhythmia, which, on that fateful day, deprived her brain of oxygen, causing her to faint and strike her head against the corner of the desk in the congressman's office.

jennifer van bergen, writing in truthout, found the medical examiner's conclusions confusing, to say the least:

on july 20, fort walton beach police chief steve hogue said that a preliminary investigation into lori klausutis' death had not turned up any evidence of foul play, trauma to her body or any outward indications of suicide. however, the autopsy issued by associate medical examiner michael berkland on august 6 shows clear evidence of severe trauma to the head: a 7 1/2 inch long fracture stretching from the right temple across the top of the head, a contusion in the occipital region (at the base of the skull), a subdural hematoma -- a collection of blood on the surface of the brain under the skull -- on the left side opposite the fracture, and eggshell fractures under the brain above the eye socket.

certainly this evidence, in itself, should have been sufficient to launch an all-out police investigation. but, despite these findings, berkland concluded the death was accidental. this apparently caused the police to close the case.

in the autopsy, berkland disclosed that lori had an "undiagnosed cardiac arrhythmia." the papers described the condition as "floppy mitral valve disease, which is typically marked by abnormal heart rhythms." according to the northwest florida daily news, the cardiac arrhythmia had "halted klausutis' heart and stopped her breathing," and the "blow to the head contributed to the death because blood pooled at the point where the fracture occurred."

however, the autopsy states that the subdural hematoma (the blood pooling) was on the opposite side of the brain from the fracture.
even worse, the examiner himself, michael berkland, or his immediate supervisor, gary cumberland, couldn't really bear up under intense scrutiny, had anybody bothered to apply any. again, wright and george in ampoljo:

dr. michael berkland should never have been the man to do the klausutis autopsy. fired as medical examiner in jackson county missouri in 1996 (see sidebar, "the merry adventures of michael berkland"), in 1998 the state of missouri revoked his license to practice for a minimum of six years. he was suspended as medical examiner in florida for having failed to report that he was under investigation. he presumably lied to the state of florida about the revocation of his license in missouri; it is otherwise difficult to understand why he would be reinstated as medical examiner or why the state of florida would permit him -- even to this day -- to claim (falsely) that his license revocation is under appeal. the revocation of his license imperiled at least nine criminal convictions in missouri. since he left missouri, we have been able to document at least two cases in which a reversal of judgment has been sought based on false testimony by dr. berkland. there may be more; berkland certainly is not bound by the truth.

how a man with such an egregious record could be placed in charge of a death as suspicious as that of lori klausutis is a mystery. however, it may be less puzzling when one examines the degree to which the medical examiner's office has been politicized. according to federal elections commission records accesses through the center for responsive politics, between january and october 1994, berkland's immediate supervisor, dr. gary cumberland, gave $3000 to joe scarborough's election campaign. mrs. cumberland gave $2,607. both donations, which are apparently hard money donations, would seem to exceed legal federal limits. dr. cumberland has since given $2000 to scarborough. a suspicious mind might ask whether those contributions were bribes or kickbacks.
so when joe scarborough dismisses katherine harris by "noting that a medical examiner found his staff member's death was natural," he was leaving (more than) a few things out.

now, we are not accusing joe of anything. what we are doing, however, is saying that katherine harris may be a lot of things, and she may be totally unhinged, but not because she suspects there's more than meets the eye to the death of lori klausutis.

we hope this little spark ignites in the great echo chamber, to re-open this sad, sad case for further inspection. we suggest everyone read:

never bound by the truth and a death in the congressman's office by denis wright and chris george, as well as the truthout series by jennifer van bergan.

also, for a comparison of the condit/levy affair to this tragedy, read the democratic underground piece tale of the tape (but note it was written before chandra levy's body was discovered, thus the remarks that her whereabouts are still unknown).

addendum: pure third hand gossip, but rodge, commenting at c&l's thread about this story has this to say:

i'm born and raised in pensacola, and i remember when scarborough resigned from congress. his official reason was he wanted to "spend more time with his family," which was kind of odd, since he had recently separated from his wife (can't remember if they had divorced yet), who had custody. scarborough's office is right over a popular waterfront restaurant, the fish house, owned by a friend of his, collier merrill. the restaurant has a back room available for private parties, and i always heard (from friends who worked there) that joe would use the room for his many extra-marital affairs. the story at the time was: there was a potential scandal when joe was caught with a much younger woman, so joe resigned in anticipation. i never knew any names, but unless the dead intern was one of the screwees, i can say that his resignation had nothing to do with the death. but i wouldn't bet on any future campaigns by mr scarborough... he's got enough skeletons in his closet without throwing in a literal one.
posted by skippy at 5:56 PM |


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