Meet your Candidates for Greenville Coroner

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This episode of Simple Civics: Greenville County was made possible by support from Beth and Mike Andrews, supporting civic engagement from all of our community’s residents, and Upstate Warrior Solution, a community-based nonprofit organization serving warriors and their families in the upstate of South Carolina, and LiveWell Greenville, bridging access to healthy eating and active living since 2011.

Meet Dale Arterburn and Mike Ellis, candidates for Greenville County Coroner. In this episode, each candidate has 10 minutes to introduce themselves to the voters. Your vote is so important! Please take a listen and share with your neighbors.

Links:

Dale Arterburn

Mike Ellis

Coroners Office

Sample Ballot

Transcript

Katy Smith:
On Tuesday, June 11th, South Carolina holds its statewide-wide primary elections. On this episode, we feature candidates Dale Arterburn and Mike Ellis who are running for Greenville County Coroner. The Coroner’s Office performs independent investigations into violent, suspicious deaths, deaths that occur outside of hospitals, and deaths that occur suddenly or unexpectedly. We’ll put a link to the County Coroner website so you can learn more about this office. But first, a quick primer on why primaries are so important. The statewide primaries are when political parties choose their candidates to be on the ballot in the general election on November 5th, when we will also vote for president. This primary on June 11th will be for important offices like state legislature, which discusses things such as roads and bridges, education, taxes, abortion, and guns, our county sheriff, and our county council, which considers issues such as zoning, roads, public safety, and more. In the Greenville County area, we have 37 offices across the county that will be on primary ballots. For almost half of those, only one party had candidates that registered to run.

Katy Smith:
Meaning that practically speaking, the June 11th primary is the election. In South Carolina, we don’t register to vote by party, and all primaries are open, meaning that you are free to vote either the Republican or Democratic primary ballot. Of course, there are other parties, but they do not have a primary in our state. We did an episode that explains how this works, and we’ll link it in the show notes for you. Only Republican candidates filed to run for coroner. So based on the outcome of the June 11th Republican primary, either Dale Arterburn or Mike Ellis will be the only candidate on the ballot in November, and thus essentially the winner. If you want to see which district you live in and who will be on your ballot, you can check out the links on the episode page for a sample ballot from the South Carolina Election Commission. Here’s how the interviews worked. All candidates received the same question at the time of their invitation to join us, and they were given 10 minutes for their interview. Candidates were allowed to bring along a companion, such as a campaign manager, family member, or friend, and to record our session themselves. There were no edits made to the interview. We’ve put links to the participating candidates’ preferred internet presence on the episode page. First up is Dale Arterburn. I’m pleased to be joined by Dale Arterburn, who is running for Greenville County Coroner. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Dale Arterburn:
Thank you, Katy. Thank you for having me.

Katy Smith:
Tell us about yourself and why you’re running for office.

Dale Arterburn:
Sure. So I was not born here in South Carolina. I was born and raised up in Barberton, Ohio, Norton, Ohio, in a Christian home with both parents. My father worked for BF Goodrich, which is one of the major tire factories up in Ohio. It merged with Michelin headquarters, which brought me to Greenville my junior year of high school. So I ended up graduating from Mauldin High School in 1992. While at school, I had joined the Mauldin Police Department Cadets Program, which was a law enforcement program to basically get kids involved in law enforcement and learn a few things about law enforcement. That program lasted for about six months. Disbanded due to funding and ended up joining the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office Explorers Cadets program. Fulfilled that for a year. Upon graduation, I enlisted in the South Carolina Army National Guard. Did my basic training at Fort Jackson here in South Carolina. After graduation from there, I moved off to Fort Bliss Texas. Completed a stinger missile school air defense artillery school that was about 16 weeks long.

Dale Arterburn:
Upon graduating from there, came back to South Carolina and enrolled in college. Obtained my associate’s degree in criminal justice public service. A couple weeks after graduation I was hired by Greer police department in 1996 where I’ve been for the last 27 and a half years. While employed at Greer I spent six and a half years on patrol. I moved up into investigations after six years.

Dale Arterburn:
And during that time period, I also took on some extra special teams, one on the Honor Guard team and one on the SWAT team, where I spent nine years as a SWAT tactical operator. The last 22 years, once again, have been in death investigations, sexual assaults, robbery, violent crimes. And I’ve responded to hundreds of death investigations during this last 22 years while at Greer. Being that Greer sits between Greenville and Spartanburg County, we get to share two different jurisdictions with coroner’s offices. So we respond to twice as much of those calls as most people would in a normal one-county jurisdiction. My education further entails with, I’ve had, I don’t know, maybe 3,000 or better hours of advanced training through death investigation. It’s been most of the schools that I’ve taken more in homicide or suicide, overdose death investigations, accidental death investigations, child death investigations, vulnerable adult, maltreatment, cases that lead to death. Just a lot of those cases and courses that would have really prepared me to run for coroner in Greenville County.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing Greenville County?

Dale Arterburn:
There’s so many. And I mean that in reality, you know, we’re dealing with a lot of things that weren’t going on 20 years ago, which is with distracted driving. We’re also dealing with fentanyl, opiate, drug abuse. COVID-19 did a lot of damage on our youth, not just our youth, but our adults that were isolated.

Dale Arterburn:
Mental health has played a huge role with whether they’re seeking the assistance from the mental health advisors or not. And, you know, that has caused a lot of things with isolation and suicide and depression, anxiety issues. So to be honest with you, I think the biggest issue that we’re seeing in law enforcement and I’m sure at the coroner’s office is the needless deaths that are coming from the fentanyl overdoses that lead to death. Sometimes they’re brought back through some Narcan, you know, where somebody’s able to be able to go to that drug treatment to them, to bring them back. But a lot of times they do, they do not. And these drugs are now being masked as, unfortunately, like ibuprofen or just some regular pill presses, they’re making it look like it is something else. And if somebody doesn’t know, they take it and they end up having an overdose. Matter of fact, we had a young man in my jail the other week. We found some marijuana and we tested some of the marijuana that had been laced with fentanyl. He almost fell out of his seat and couldn’t believe he even came into possession of that because it wasn’t something he knew he had. So that’s a huge issue is the fentanyl that exists out here. The open borders are allowing these drugs to, you know, to come in no matter where from. But they found their way into our schools. They found their way into our homes. Law enforcement’s doing what they need to do for the most part to get these off the streets. But for everyone you arrest, there’s 10 more out still pushing these illicit drugs.

Katy Smith:
Thank you.

Dale Arterburn:
Yes, ma’am.

Katy Smith:
What would be your priorities if elected this year?

Dale Arterburn:
So my priorities would start with restructuring of the coroner’s office. These men and women investigators work tirelessly. I’m not exactly sure of the exact number of deaths that have been reported, as I don’t have those figures in front of me. I have heard several different numbers, which don’t seem to make sense, but I think it’s right around 5,000 would be appropriate for this past year. So restructuring the hours to where they’re being able to manage a life and a work life and a home life would be most important to me. I would like to also instill and add a chaplain’s division to the coroner’s office that would not only serve the public of Greenville County residents, but the well-being of my employees at the coroner’s office. Being it’s a job where you don’t really see a lot of happiness. It’s mostly sorrow, depression, and loss. They need that mental health, and they need that shoulder to cry on as well, and somebody to console with. So I think that’s going to be an asset if we add that to the office. Furthermore, I think that we’re going to need to work on a platform that’s going to deal with education.

Dale Arterburn:
I’ve already met with the sheriff in Greenville County and several municipal chiefs where we would like to get some education going into the schools, preventative measures, dealing with suicide awareness, distracted driving at the appropriate age, impaired driving.

Dale Arterburn:
Once again, fentanyl or opioid drug abuse and awareness to stay away from those things because you just don’t know what you’re getting your hands into. That would be one of our major priorities if elected. Furthermore, I would like to, excuse me–

Dale Arterburn:
See what we can do with adding more staff. I know it’s a hard thing to ask for more money and more staff, but I think that we’re going to need to add more bodies if we decide to start moving towards being more proactive as opposed to being the reactive office that it’s been for the last 30 plus years under the current corner. I haven’t seen a lot of changes in the educational aspect, and I think that’s going to require more bodies. So asking for more personnel is going to be pretty important to see how we can work that out with the county council or the county administrator.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. We have a little bit more time. Is there anything else you’d like to say to listeners?

Dale Arterburn:
I’m going to ask that you make sure you vet your candidates, know what they’re really doing and what they’re asking for, why they’re running for this office. As a lifetime public servant, serving in the military and in law enforcement, I’ve had countless awards, been rewarded for a lot of things. Those don’t mean anything to me. I don’t even know what the salary is for the coroner’s job. I didn’t even look it up. It doesn’t matter to me. I would do it for free. It’s the knowing that I could take this position and make that a better environment for our county residents, a healthier environment for our county residents, as for as well as for the staff but make sure you vet your candidates. Whether it be for this office or any other office. Know who you’re putting in office and know that their heart is in it for that or if they’re in there for some other reasons. Check out my website. I guess I can mention that as well. Yes. Okay. So on Facebook, you can look up on Arterburn for Corner would be on Facebook, or you can also go to DaleforCorner.com. We periodically keep up with endorsements every day, things that are going on within the community, folks that we’re meeting with and who would like to join in or donate or just follow our page, see what we’ve got going on, and what our background is.

Katy Smith:
Thank you so much for joining us and thank you so much for your willingness to serve the community.

Dale Arterburn:
Thank you so much.

Katy Smith:
Next up is Mike Ellis. Well, I’m happy to be here with Mike Ellis, who is running for Greenville County Coroner. Thanks so much for joining us, Mike.

Mike Ellis:
It’s my pleasure, Katy.

Katy Smith:
Tell us about yourself and why you’re running.

Mike Ellis:
Well, I’m Greenville County’s Chief Deputy Coroner. I’ve been with the Greenville County Coroner’s Office 28 years. Parks Evans, our coroner who’s been the coroner for 33 years, had decided to retire. And I made the decision at that time that I would run for the elected official’s office. Like I say, I have been with the coroner’s office 28 years. I’ve handled probably every job and every aspect in the Greenville County Coroner’s Office. And that’s extremely important when you take over the corners position. You have your deputy corners. We have 18 and we have three admins, but if you don’t know exactly what those people need to do and have to do, it’s hard to lead an office to that extent. Now there is– I am a medical-legal death investigator, trained and certified by the American Board of Medical Legal Death Investigation. That’s ABMDI. That certification, I don’t mind telling you, is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever accomplished in my life. The exam and the test that I took was probably the hardest that I’ve ever taken in my life. But because we are an IACME, International Association of Coroner Medical Examiner Accredited Offices, the coroner has to be certified by ABMDI to have that certification. That certification is extremely important in any type of medical-legal field. First thing, it gives you more credentials when you testify in court. But to achieve those certifications, you have to have completed so many different tasks, and it has to be witnessed and have to be signed off by a doctor or another person who passed ABMDI before you’re even able to sit for the exam. And I am ABMDI certified. I was actually the 257th person to be certified.

Mike Ellis:
I’m extremely proud of the Greenville County Coroner’s Office, and I’m especially proud of the people who work there. They do a fantastic job, they always have. They’re highly trained investigators, too, in the medical field. We have people trained in the legal field. But what we try to do is hire people trained in the medical field and educate them in the legal field. Now, if we do find somebody that we need to hire in the legal field, we educate them in the medical field before they’re actually able to go out and handle calls on their own. Sometimes it may take us up to six months to a year before our senior deputies is comfortable allowing them to go out and handle calls on their own.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing the county?

Mike Ellis:
Well, right now, the biggest issues facing our county, I believe, is drug overdoses, fentanyl. We try to highly educate the public. We have so many resources that we utilize, probably weekly, to educate the public on the uses of drugs and how they can affect the human body. A lot of people don’t understand if you’ve utilized or used drugs for many, many years and you’re off of those drugs for a month, what you were using before, had any problems with, now could kill you with just one time.

Mike Ellis:
And we have utilized so many resources and do so many speaking engagements to try to educate the public on the uses of drugs and the effects and also how it affects people when they’re raising their children or people, how they’re working on a job. It has no positive effect on anybody whatsoever, regardless of what people try to convince you. We have a mobile, portable drug unit that we utilize in schools, colleges, any civic organizations, we man that unit with deputy coroners. Sometimes the Phoenix Center will have their people that partnered with us to help us do this. They will also man it with us, but we very seldom ever turn down anybody who asks us to speak or bring our equipment or bring our knowledge to their facility.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What would be your priorities if elected this year?

Mike Ellis:
Well, you know, I will say if it’s not broke, I’m not going to try to fix it. But I’d be amiss to say I’ve worked there 28 years and not had some things that I’d like to implement myself. The biggest thing that we’re trying to implement now is going to a shift schedule. We’ve actually been trying to go to a shift schedule for a couple of years now. We have not had the amount of people that Coroner Evans felt like we needed to work a shift schedule. I feel sure we have that amount of people now. If not, we’ll probably be getting a couple more in July. The shift schedule is going to help our deputy coroners quite a bit. It’s going to make sure that they get the time off that they need. This is an extremely hard and stressful job. You can obviously imagine. Right now, our deputy corners can be out 24 hours at a single time.

Mike Ellis:
We don’t want to do anything that’ll jeopardize the service that we give to the public. That’s why we had to have enough people before we would try to do this. What we’ll be able to do if we go to shifts, and that will be my priority, us going to shifts, is we’ll have a day shift and a night shift. Our night shift and day shift both will respond from the Greenville County Coroner’s Office, which is on Prisma property. That right there will help us quite a bit because everybody will respond from the same location. Right now, we’re guaranteeing 45-minute response time. When everybody responds from home, it stresses us to be there in 45 minutes. When they respond from the center location of Greenville County, which is Prisma, we may even be able to serve the public even faster. And realistically, we have mortuaries that need assistance.

Mike Ellis:
After day shift hours, we’ll have an admin on call or a deputy coroner in the office who will be able to assist the mortuaries, be able to assist anybody that wants to come in at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. And the way people work now, that is a good possibility. That’s the only time they can come and communicate with our coroners and our deputy coroners. That’ll help us quite a bit also. And our deputy corners, right now, they work so much that it accords a good bit of overtime. I have talked to all of our deputy corners along with our senior deputies, and almost every one of them had rather go to shifts than they had with the overtime. It’ll help the county on our overtime budget when we’re able to go to shifts. And that right there now is probably one of my top priorities. Now, I will tell you, I have tried and I think I’ve accomplished hiring some of the most up-to-date, state-of-the-art employees that has specialties in a lot of trades. I have three certified drone pilots.

Mike Ellis:
Other agencies utilize our drone pilots. We’ll send them out to anywhere that anybody needs us, regardless of whether deaths involved. If another agency needs us, we send them. I have three certified forensic technicians that are highly trained in forensics. There’s people in our office that can process a crime scene or a death scene from start to finish. We close to work in over 6,000 cases a year in Greenville County. We’re privileged to have law enforcement on probably 500 of those. But the others, the deputy coroner who’s out there has to serve as the legal investigator and the medical investigator. And that’s why our people are so highly trained and they’re so efficient in everything that we do. And out of those 6,000 cases, I would not be afraid to say that they respond to at least 5,000 of those cases.

Katy Smith:
We have a minute left. Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

Mike Ellis:
Well, a priority in the Greenville County Coroner’s Office, and it will continue to stay exactly like it is, is the service we give to the public. We have a lot of services that we provide to the public. But the biggest thing, all of our investigators, if they’re not compassionate and they don’t know how to deal with the public in such a stressful situation, we don’t have them. Regardless of their highly trained techniques that they have. If they can’t deal with our public compassionately anytime they need them, answer their questions at any time, day or night, then that person usually will not stay at our office any length of time. The public is first and foremost in everything we do because when you give somebody the worst news they’ll ever hear in their entire life, you better be able to make sure you comfort them the best way you possibly can because they never forget who gives them that news.

Katy Smith:
Well, thank you so much for joining us today, and thank you so much for your willingness to serve our community.

Mike Ellis:
Well, Katy, thank you so much for having me, and thank you for publicizing such an important part and position in Greenville County.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

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