A photo of the exterior of the Riverside County Administrative Building where the Riverside County Board of Supervisors meet.
A photo of the Riverside County Administrative Building where the Riverside County Board of Supervisors meets. (Alicia Ramirez/TN News)

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously voted to direct staff to look into the feasibility of removing the role of coroner from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The vote came after weeks of public comment from residents like Lisa Matus, whose son Richard Matus Jr. died while in custody at the Cois Byrd Detention Center in August 2022, calling on the board to separate the two roles.

“Separating them will enhance transparency and mitigate potential conflict of interest,” Matus said at the Nov. 5 meeting. “To not separate the two will continue to hinder closure for the families. It will allow a painful chapter to persist in my life and many others lives.”

According to a study from the University of Southern California published earlier this year, when the coroner’s office and the sheriff’s department are combined, the number of people killed by law enforcement officers is underreported when compared with departments where the roles are separate.

“Making the coroner independent from the sheriff is important because it increases transparency, removes potential conflicts of interest and increases objectivity in the process of determining the cause of death of an individual, including in-custody deaths,” Luis Nolasco, senior policy advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said.

Stay up to date with the latest from The Record.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter today!

Historically, the two roles were separate in Riverside County up until 1999 after a vote by the board of supervisors to consolidate the two at the recommendation of the Riverside County Commission on Reorganization and Structure.

Supporters of the move, like Matus and Nolasco, have also called on the county to create an office of the inspector general and a civilian oversight committee, neither of which the board has discussed.

The board is expected to receive a report on the feasibility of separating the sheriff’s department from the coroner’s office — including potential costs, savings, legal issues, organizational structure and labor considerations — within 90 days.

A video of the meeting can be found here on the county’s website.

TN News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet providing Riverside County with high-quality journalism free of charge. We’re able to do this because of the generous donations of supporters like you!

Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.