PENASCOLA, Fla. – A former medical examiner has been arrested on charges of keeping human remains in a rented storage unit in the Florida Panhandle.
Dr. Michael Berkland, 57, was arrested Friday on charges of improper storage of hazardous waste, keeping a public nuisance and driving with a suspended license. He was released from jail on $10,000 bail.
Berkland's attorney, Eric Stevenson, told the Pensacola News Journal that he and Berkland will start preparing their defense next week.
State Attorney Bill Eddins said more charges may be filed.
Crudely preserved brains, hearts, lungs and other organs and specimens were discovered in more than 100 containers last month in a Pensacola storage unit that Berkland had rented for about three years. The unit was auctioned off after Berkland defaulted on his payments, according to an arrest affidavit.
Berkland had declared the contents to be household goods, furniture, boxes, sporting goods and landscaping equipment. A man who bought the unit's contents discovered the human organs after becoming overpowered by a strange smell while sifting through the items, authorities said.
Ten cardboard boxes stacked in a corner of the unit contained "numerous individual containers with ... human remains stored in a liquid substance," according to the affidavit.
Most of the containers were labeled. About half the containers were medical grade and the other half included soda cups and plastic food containers, according to the affidavit.
The organs were stored in a liquid solution containing formaldehyde and methyl alcohol, authorities said.
"The remains included tissue samples and dissected organs. (Investigators) also advised that there were numerous whole organs, including hearts, brains, a liver and a lung," according to the affidavit.
Berkland worked at the District 1 Medical Examiner's Office in Pensacola from 1997 to 2003, when he was fired for not completing autopsy reports. Berkland's license to serve as a medical examiner in Florida has been withdrawn.
Before coming to Florida, Berkland had been fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Missouri, in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His doctor's license was ultimately revoked there.
The medical examiner's office in Pensacola said the organs found in the storage unit appear to have come from private autopsies Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in the Florida Panhandle and in Tallahassee.
Jeff Martin, director of the medical examiner's office, said about 10 families have been notified that their relatives' remains were in the unit.
Improper storage of hazardous waste carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, and keeping a public nuisance, a misdemeanor charge, could mean a 60-day jail term, according to the state attorney's office.