L.A. coroner says he plans to resign after just over 2 years on the job

The medical examiner-coroner for Los Angeles County, Mark Fajardo, said late Thursday that he plans to resign from his post atop one of the nation’s busiest and most high-profile coroner’s offices.

Fajardo said in an interview with The Times that several factors influenced his intention to leave the department. But he said understaffing was among the principal reasons for his decision.

“Ultimately, I wasn’t supplied the resources I need to perform my job duties,” Fajardo said. “Every year we made requests for positions that needed to be filled…. Each year we were not supplied the personnel we need.”

News of Fajardo’s resignation was first reported by KCAL-TV Channel 9. Contrary to the news station's report, however, Fajardo clarified that he had not yet formally submitted a resignation letter, but planned to do so “in the next couple of days.”

He has received one job offer, which he said he “will probably accept.” He declined to provide additional details.

The KCAL report said the coroner’s office was under scrutiny because of a backlog in processing cases. Fajardo acknowledged that understaffing had contributed to a “huge backlog."

“It’s hard to quantify,” he said of the backlog. “Usually we try and turn around 90% [of cases] in 60 days.” Under the current backlog, some toxicology reports have taken six months or longer to be completed, he said.

Fajardo was named coroner in August 2013 after serving as coroner in Riverside County.

From the start of his tenure, Fajardo signaled that he didn’t think his department’s budget was large enough to meet its demands.

In an interview with The Times shortly after he took the job, he said his office’s budget, which was $32 million in 2013, was not nearly enough. But he said that the service it provides for such a budget “is amazing.”

“We are the premiere coroner's office in the United States, especially in light of -- I won't mind reiterating -- the budget we have," Fajardo said. "I think we serve the people of Los Angeles County very well."

Fajardo was born in East L.A., but when he was in seventh grade, his father, a sheriff’s deputy, was killed in an auto accident and his family moved to Santa Maria. After he started medical school, a stint in the pathology department led him into forensic pathology.

On Thursday evening, Fajardo said the coroner’s department staff was saddened by his departure.

“I had a wonderful experience here in L.A. County,” he said. “I wish that things were different.”

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno.

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