The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department launched an investigation last Friday into whether staffers at the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office leaked or sold confidential information related to [artist id="1102"]Michael Jackson[/artist] in the weeks following the singer's death.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the probe came after reports that by the first week of July, Jackson's death certificate had been looked at more than 300 times by coroner's office staffers, despite rules limiting its viewing to just a few people with legitimate reasons.
"We need to get that environment under control," Los Angeles County supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the paper about the coroner's office. The Times also reported that officials discovered weaknesses in two computer systems that hold sensitive investigation records. Those vulnerabilities were fixed, and it's not believed unauthorized people saw the reports. County supervisors asked for the sheriff's investigation and have also called for the county auditor to examine possible leaks.
The Los Angeles Police Department launched an internal investigation in February to determine who had allegedly leaked a photo to TMZ of Rihanna following her assault at the hands of Chris Brown; no results were ever announced in that inquiry.
The examination of the coroner's office comes after word that at least half a dozen employees had improperly viewed Jackson's death certificate online before it was released to the public. Before the news emerged about the unauthorized peeks at Jackson's documents, supervisors at the coroner's office had reportedly expressed concerns about possible leaks in light of detailed reports about the Jackson case in the media. The Times reported that coroner's officials reassured supervisors in a meeting earlier this month that the leaks were not coming from their office. Supervisors have issued warnings to the employees who improperly viewed the Jackson documents. A coroner's office official and a sheriff's department spokesperson could not be reached for comment at press time.
In the weeks since Jackson's death, a rash of purported details about the circumstances of his death and the condition of his body at the time of death have been reported on both traditional media outlets and in the tabloid press.
The final autopsy results for Jackson are expected this week, and the scramble by hundreds of media outlets to break news on the potential cause of death has created a renewed sensitivity in California about safeguarding celebrities' records. A state law was enacted last year after widely reported violations of patient privacy at the UCLA Medical Center in relation to files on [artist id="501686"]Britney Spears[/artist] and the late Farrah Fawcett.