A National Funeral Home employee who publicly supported allegations that the company was mishandling bodies at its Falls Church facility was fired last week for speaking to the media, he and his attorney said.
Robert Ranghelli, 20, of Manassas Park was put on administrative leave three months ago after he spoke to The Washington Post and other media outlets about what he considered disgraceful conditions at the funeral home. After The Post revealed the conditions in an article April 5, Ranghelli corroborated another former employee's claims, saying he regularly saw decomposing bodies left in the garage and back rooms of National, a regional embalming and storage facility for Service Corporation International.
Ranghelli was fired Wednesday morning, when SCI officials told him to report to work. They immediately informed him that he had violated company policies by speaking to the media and appearing with a company van in a Post photograph. It was the same day SCI officials publicly denied that the conditions existed and argued in letters to a Virginia regulatory board that an internal investigation turned up no evidence to support the allegations.
"I grew up on morals, and I have ethics and I have integrity and dignity," said Ranghelli, who became a father last month when his son, Dimitri, was born and was the sole wage earner for his family. "As soon as The Post story came out, I saw that they were trying to cover up what they did. I feel they got rid of me because I would have still been in there telling them what had really happened."
An SCI spokeswoman confirmed that Ranghelli was terminated but would not comment further because the company does not publicly discuss personnel matters. SCI officials also have declined to release the results of their internal investigation, which they say clears them of any wrongdoing.
David Colapinto, an attorney for Ranghelli, said he is considering filing a whistleblower lawsuit. He also said Ranghelli cooperated with SCI's internal probe, speaking with investigators for more than five hours during two meetings. In those interviews, Ranghelli reported numerous problems at the funeral home and fully backed the claims of Steven Napper, who worked as an embalmer at National Funeral Home and publicly exposed the conditions there, Colapinto said.
"This is a coverup and a whitewash," Colapinto said. "Their concern is to send a message to their workforce: 'Don't disclose information, or you'll end up like Robert Ranghelli.' They want to instill a chilling effect on their workforce."
The Virginia Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers is investigating the allegations, and state officials have proposed new regulations that would require funeral homes to embalm or refrigerate bodies shortly after receiving them. Among other allegations, Ranghelli and Napper said that unembalmed bodies awaiting cremation were left to decompose in unrefrigerated areas of the funeral home and that bodies of military veterans awaiting burial at Arlington National Cemetery were stored for months on racks in the garage.
SCI has defended the practice, saying Virginia has no law or regulation that requires bodies to be refrigerated, adding that National Funeral Home has stored bodies in the garage and will keep such storage an option in the future.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY
Charges Dropped in Case Involving U-Md. Student
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
A Prince George's County prosecutor yesterday dropped charges against a University of Maryland student who had been accused of assaulting a campus police officer after three officers subpoenaed by the defense did not appear in court and prosecutors did not produce a written statement by an eyewitness.
The student, John-Randall Shant Gorby, 21, said in an interview that the incident began about 2 a.m. May 13 when five men attacked and tried to rob him in the parking lot of a small shopping center near the campus. Gorby said he was punched and knocked to the ground, then got up and slugged two men who pushed him.
According to university police, one of the men was a plainclothes campus police officer who ran toward the fray. Gorby said he did not know an officer was nearby. Another officer grabbed Gorby's arm and handcuffed him, according to police charging documents.
Gorby said that after he was handcuffed, he tried to point out one of his attackers to campus police but that officers told him to "shut up." He said campus police allowed the man to get away.
Gorby's attorney, Rene Sandler, said campus police also failed to check surveillance video from nearby businesses, which she said might have helped identify Gorby's attackers.
"It's disgraceful," Sandler said of the efforts of university police and prosecutors. "No one was interested in investigating. No one was interested in finding out the truth."
Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, said charges against Gorby were dropped because police failed to review video surveillance and key witnesses did not appear for court. Korionoff said campus police did not provide the statement by an independent witness to prosecutors.
Regarding Sandler's contention that the case was mishandled, he said Assistant State's Attorney Chinwe Kpaduwa "acted professionally in all her efforts on this case."
Capt. John Brandt, a campus police spokesman, said he was unaware of any defense subpoenas for the three campus officers, including the one Gordy allegedly struck, who did not appear in court.
Brandt said campus police records showed that only Minkyu Pak, the officer who arrested Gorby and swore out the statement of charges, was summoned to court yesterday, by the state.
University police reviewed surveillance video from a camera trained on the parking lot, but the images were not sharp enough to help, Brandt said. Pak was in the courtroom in Hyattsville yesterday and left shortly after District Court Judge Krystal Alves dismissed the case at Kpaduwa's request.
After spending a night in jail, Gorby said, he went to campus police and wrote a statement describing how he was attacked. While there, Gorby said, he ran into someone who witnessed the incident and was writing his statement.
The witness wrote that he saw Gorby being attacked by five men, Gorby and Brandt said.
Sandler said she requested a copy of the statement to prepare for trial. Prosecutors did not provide it and did not explain why it was unavailable, Sandler said.