State closes Canton Twp. cemetery after police raid
State authorities on Thursday shut down a Canton Township cemetery, a day after police searched a crypt there and removed infant remains that allegedly didn't have the proper paperwork.
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced it had issued a cease and desist order against Knollwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Canton Township, "due to multiple violations of Michigan's Cemetery Regulation Act — and an imminent threat to the public health and safety."
LARA also suspended the cemetery's prepaid funeral and cemetery sales registration, spokesman Jason Moon said in a press release.
"In response to evidence found during the course of LARA’s investigation into Perry Funeral Home in Detroit, inspectors with the department’s Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing Bureau found Knollwood’s conduct demonstrated a lack of integrity to protect the public and a lack of good moral character," Moon said.
Moon said LARA regulators found numerous violations, including:
- Twenty-seven plastic containers containing an undetermined number of un-cremated remains lacked the appropriate documentation, including, but not limited to, incomplete or missing burial transit permits, death certificates and “Final Disposition of Stillbirth” forms.
- "In some cases, Knollwood obtained possession of deceased infants without first being expressly directed or authorized to do so by a relative of the deceased persons or a person entitled to custody," Moon said.
- "By storing the un-cremated remains on behalf of Perry Funeral Home, Knollwood aided and abetted Perry Funeral Home, a person not licensed, in the practice of funeral directing," Moon said.
- "In other cases, Knollwood, after agreeing to provide for the final disposition of a dead human body, failed or refused to properly dispose of the infants for more than 180 days after the date it took possession of the infants in violation of the Michigan Penal Code, which is also a violation of the Occupational Code, the Cemetery Regulation Act, and the Prepaid Funeral and Cemetery Sales Act," Moon said.
A person who answered the phone late Thursday afternoon at the cemetery declined to comment and said general manager Dennis Harmon was not available.
The closure of Knollwood followed police raids of two Metro Detroit cemeteries Wednesday, in which they removed dozens of infant and fetal remains that allegedly were improperly handled by Perry Funeral Home.
Detroit Police and Michigan State Police officers raided Gethsemane Cemetery in Detroit and Knollwood. Inspectors with LARA also were present.
"This was prompted by a tip, which said between 100 and 125 fetuses had been mishandled and were stored in crypts," Detroit police Chief James Craig said. "The remains we removed were all handled by Perry. This is part of the funeral home criminal investigation."
Perry spokesman Tom Shields said Thursday he couldn't comment on the matter until he received more details about the allegations.
Craig said officers studied 104 sets of remains from Gethsemane, and 345 from Knollwood, adding there was improper or missing paperwork filed for 27 sets of infant and fetal remains from Knollwood, and 17 from Gethsemane.
"The remains that were removed were found to be in violation, based on documentation that had discrepancies," Craig said. Those remains were taken to a facility in Flint. Craig said he couldn't elaborate because the investigation is ongoing.
Some of the remains in the crypts had been cremated, Craig said during a press briefing Thursday at police headquarters.
Craig said LARA told his investigators about the tip, which alleged that more than 100 fetuses were improperly stored at Gethsemane, where he said police executed a search warrant. He characterized the Knollwood action as "an inspection," adding officers did not execute a search warrant there.
Craig said the managers of both cemeteries were cooperative. "At this point, there's no allegation that the cemeteries did anything wrong, but we're still active in our investigation," he said.
Moon said Thursday in a written statement: "Based on information gathered during the course of LARA’s investigation into Perry Funeral Home in Detroit, state regulators conducted an onsite inspection of Knollwood Cemetery in Canton last night. We are currently exploring possible regulatory actions against the facility and have an open investigation.
"Also as part of the Perry investigation, LARA notified Detroit Police regarding possible issues at Gethsemane Cemetery in Detroit," Moon said. "Gethsemane is a municipal cemetery owned by the City of Detroit and LARA has no regulatory oversight of the establishment. LARA regulators did assist Detroit Police yesterday in their inspection of the cemetery."
Wednesday's raids were part of a months-long probe into the alleged mishandling of remains by Perry and Cantrell funeral homes, both of Detroit. A lawsuit that prompted police to look into Perry was certified last month as a class action, after plaintiffs' attorneys claimed as many as 200 infant or fetal remains were improperly handled.
The lawsuit also alleges mishandling of remains by Knollwood, Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center's Harper-Hutzel Hospital, among others. Spokespersons for the defendants insist they've done nothing wrong.
Detroit police and LARA on Oct. 19 raided Perry's facility on Trumbull in Detroit, and removed 63 infant and fetal remains, including 36 that were stored in an unrefrigerated box. LARA also suspended Perry's mortuary license and the license of director Gary Deak.
Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue in Detroit is also under investigation after investigators found the remains of 10 fetuses and an infant hidden in a ceiling tile. The discovery was prompted by a letter alleging improper handling of remains and fraud.
Investigators removed hundreds of other remains from Cantrell. Funeral services were held for the mostly unclaimed remains, including an All Saint's Day service for 300 remains; and military honors given to 17 veterans whose remains were removed from Cantrell.
"I never would’ve imagined a case like this — and it’s not over," Craig said. "Where’s it going to take us next?"