2nd Detroit funeral home probed over handling of fetuses
As authorities probe the discovery of abandoned remains at the former Cantrell Funeral Home, police are investigating allegations that another Detroit funeral home mishandled hundreds of fetuses and infants' bodies and filed death certificates falsely claiming that some of them had been buried.
The development comes amid an ongoing Detroit police probe into allegedly improperly handled remains at the closed Cantrell facility on Detroit's east side.
The latest investigation stems from a 72-page lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court that claims Perry Funeral Home, on Trumbull near Warren, stored the remains of stillborn and live birth babies in the Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science morgue for up to three years without trying to notify parents, some of whom wanted to donate the bodies for medical research.
The lawsuit further alleges that Perry "fraudulently and deceptively" billed Medicaid, the Detroit Medical Center/Harper-Hutzel Hospital and the state of Michigan for funeral services and burials that weren't performed.
The suit was filed in July by attorneys for Rachel Brown and Larry Davis, the parents of Alayah Davis, who suffered from severe respiratory problems after her birth Dec. 8, 2014. She survived only 27 minutes.
After Alayah died, her parents thought they were releasing the body to Wayne State's medical school for medical research, but found out last year the remains instead were sent to Perry Funeral Home and then sat unattended in the school's morgue for three years after her death, the lawsuit said.
Brown and Davis' attorneys, Peter J. Parks and Daniel W. Cieslak, on Oct. 3 filed a motion to certify the lawsuit as a class-action because they said there likely are hundreds of related cases.
Detroit Police became aware of the allegations while investigating Cantrell Funeral Home, where 11 infants' bodies, 10 of them fetuses, were found last week in a ceiling compartment after state officials received a tip. Since April, 38 unattended bodies and 269 containers of cremated remains have been discovered in the facility, which was shuttered because of deplorable conditions.
Police Chief James Craig said detectives were moved to look into the allegations laid out in Brown's lawsuit after meeting this week with Parks.
Craig said he has discussed the allegations with Wayne County prosecutors, the Michigan Attorney General's Office and the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, with the parties scheduled to meet Friday.
Parks said Alayah's father asked him to alert police after learning about the Cantrell case.
The lawsuit names as defendants the Detroit Medical Center, Harper-Hutzel Hospital, Vermeulen Funeral Home, which owns Perry Funeral Home, Wayne State University and Knollwood Memorial Park Cemetery.
Wayne State spokesman Matt Lockwood said Thursday in an email the university only "recently became aware" of the lawsuit.
"Without offering an opinion on the lawsuit itself, we believe the claim against the university is baseless and we will be moving soon to dismiss it," Lockwood said.
Dennis Herman, Knollwood general manager, said the cemetery wasn't involved in Perry's claim to have buried the remains.
"The funeral home makes out those death certificates," Herman said. "I have nothing to do with that. The cemetery did not receive a body, we did not perform a burial, and we did not bill anyone for it."
Tonita Cheatham, a spokeswoman for the DMC and Harper-Hutzel Hospital, said it's against policy to discuss pending litigation.
Perry Funeral home attorney Joshua I. Arnkoff emailed: "We cannot comment about the lawsuit at this time other than to say that the allegations are disputed."
According to the lawsuit, after Alayah died, her parents were approached by a hospital representative who asked if they wanted to donate the body to the Wayne State Medical School for research. The parents agreed.
"(Harper-Hutzel Hospital) never undertook to facilitate transfer of Alayah's body to the medical school," said the lawsuit, which seeks more than $25,000 in damages.
Instead, the suit alleges, Alayah's remains, and perhaps hundreds more, were released to Perry Funeral Home by Harper-Hutzel Hospital or other Metro Detroit hospitals.
On April 30, 2015, four months after Alayah died, Harper-Hutzel's Chief Medical Officer Patricia Wilkerson-Uddyback sent a letter to Perry Funeral Home saying Alayah's parents and the parents of of 36 other fetuses and dead infants had abandoned them at the hospital.
"We have called and left messages, as well as sending Certified Letters in an attempt to have the Parents come in and sign off on the Final Dispositions," the letter said. "Unfortunately, no responses were received."
After the remains were sent to Perry, the funeral home's managing director, Gary Deak "fraudulently represented on Alayah's Certificate of Death that Alayah's body had been interred at Knollwood Memorial Cemetery, Canton, MI, when Perry knew that her remains, along with those of some additional 35-36 deceased infants and/or fetuses were being stored in the morgue at Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science," the lawsuit said.
"Perry additionally completed and filed at least seven additional false and fraudulent Delayed Certificates of Death as to other newborns who had died shortly after birth in Detroit area hospitals, indicating that their remains were buried at ... Knollwood Memorial Park Cemetery," the lawsuit said.