Hamilton County facing federal lawsuit over sexual abuse at the county morgue

CINCINNATI - Hamilton County is facing a federal lawsuit over the sexual acts of an employee who worked in its morgue.  When someone is murdered in Hamilton County, and the body is sent to the coroner's office for an autopsy,  you would trust that body would be safe and protected.

But there is a former employee, who's currently in jail, for sexually abusing corpses. 

Now, years later,  the families of the victims want relief.

9 News was given exclusive video by a victim's lawyer, who claims the county ignored numerous warning signs. (The video can be viewed in the media player to the left).

"You can't explain the hurt, it's like a zombie, you just have no feelings," said James Appling, the father of one of the victims.

Appling is talking about his murdered daughter, but what made him feel that way is what happened to her after she was killed.

"I thought she would be well-protected and taken care of, respected," said Appling.

Appling's daughter, Charlene, was 24 and pregnant with her second child when she was killed.  Charlene was one of the three confirmed corpses Kenneth Douglas abused while he worked in the Hamilton County Coroner's Office. 

Douglas admitted to sexually assaulting, Charlene Appling, Karen Range, and Angel Hicks during his time at the morgue, which spanned from 1982-1991. Dr. Frank Cleveland was the coroner during this time.

"I would just get on top of them and pull my pants down," said Douglas.

These crimes did not come to light until years later. It was not until 2008 that DNA from the victims was linked to Douglas. He was indicted, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.

But even back then Hamilton County had a hard time explaining it.

 "I can't explain this at all," said Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Douglas' wife claims she called the morgue supervisor about her husband smelling like alcohol and....

"I told him we're down to one car so I'm driving him to work and picking him up. He gets undressed and he wreaks of ____" said Kenneth Douglas' wife.

The victim's attorney put it in terms that we can publish: "Her husband was also coming home from work as she put it, smelling like sex," said attorney Al Gerhardstein, one of the family's attorneys.

Douglas' wife claims the morgue supervisor, told her to stop calling.

"He said, 'Whatever happens on county time and on county property is county business,'" said Douglas' wife.

Douglas says he committed these crimes because he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol on the job.

"If I hadn't had anything to drink when I went to work, it wouldn't happen. I would do crack and go in and drink and go in," said Douglas.

And even he isn't sure how many corpses he abused.

"Could have been a 100," said Douglas.

Gerhardstein claims that the county ignored the warning signs.

"The county had plenty of notice that Douglas was coming to work and was present at work while he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.  Had he been stopped these women would not have been abused," said Gerhardstein.

The families of the three victims are suing Hamilton County because their loved ones bodies were in the custody of the morgue.

"This is a time that you do expect that the county will hold your loved one safely.  This abuse happened on the county watch by a county employee and that is just terrible," said Gerhardstein.

A morgue employee who worked with Douglas testified that he would bring live women in at night and have sex with them.   

This is the fourth time the county has been sued for failing to protect bodies in the morgue.  The county could have another multi-million dollar lawsuit on its hands.

We reached out to Hamilton County for comment on the case and they provided the following statement:

  • This case is different from the other coroner lawsuits. The prior cases all involved decisions and policies put in place by the coroner.
  • This case does not involve a policy put in place by the coroner. It involves the unknown criminal acts of an employee.
  • What Douglas did was reprehensible, and a crime and, most importantly outside of the scope of his employment with the coroner.
  • Like all necrophiles, Douglas kept his acts secret. According to experts the acts were unforeseeable.
  • Once discovered by the county he was investigated and prosecuted by the county.
  • Douglas admitted to his crimes and pled guilty as charged to gross abuse of a corpse. He is in prison where he belongs.
  • Hamilton county, like any other employer, is not and should not be responsible for the criminal acts of an employee.
  • The taxpayers should not have to any pay money for the acts committed by criminals.
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