KNOX COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Criminal charges have now been filed against Knox County Coroner Karen Donovan.
Donovan was initially arrested on March 22, at the time, Indiana State Police said they had found drugs including methamphetamine and fentanyl in Donovan’s possession.
A Probable Cause Affidavit, filed on April 13 in Knox County Court provides more details into the investigation that led to Donovan’s arrest.
According to the document, undercover police who were investigating a drug case in Vincennes on March 22, and had made several purchases of reported fentanyl that turned out to be methamphetamine. During that investigation, it was revealed by the suspect that he had been selling Adderall to Donovan for approximately 2 years, with the most recent purchase being 2-3 days before.
Police learned that Donovan did not have a prescription for Adderall.
The same day that the investigation learned of Donovan’s potential purchases, police spoke to Knox County Deputy Coroners Jessica Atkinson and Joshua Like. The deputies reported that in April 2022, Atkinson was shown a bag of marijuana by Donovan that had been taken from the scene of a death investigation being stored in the coroner’s office.
Atkinson said that 4 months later in August of 2022, they had been assisting with moving items from a shed that had been used as the coroner’s office to a storage unit. During the move, Donovan had directed her to place the same bag of marijuana into a filing cabinet.
Deputy coroner Like then told police he knew the case where the bag of marijuana originated, saying it was from a death investigation from Decker. Like said Donovan had brought the bag to show the doctor performing the autopsy, and he later saw the bag in the trunk of Donovan’s car.
A Police K-9 reportedly gave a positive indication of the presence of illegal drugs when police performed an “open-air sniff” near 4 storage units rented to Karen Donovan in her role as Coroner.
While searching the storage unit, two glass containers containing marijuana were located along with an aluminum soda can that had been fashioned into a smoking device.
Police noted that storage containers from previous coroners were also in the unit.
“Inside these containers were organized confidential pictures along with any personal belongings also organized. The items located and collected by Donovan were ‘stuffed’ inside a file cabinet not consistent with prior coroner’s storage systems,” the document reads.
Later that same evening police searched Donovan’s residence on Daleview Drive in Vincennes. When police arrived to search the residence Donovan reportedly asked “This is about the marijuana in the storage unit isn’t it?”
Police reported finding the following items in Donovan’s master bedroom;
- A small baggie containing methamphetamine residue and a piece of a plastic drinking straw hidden inside a cigarette box stored in a purse.
- An empty box of Fentanyl 25 mcg/hr containing the empty wrapper for a fentanyl patch stored in a purse.*
- An empty box labeled to contain Fentanyl 100 mcg/hr stored in a purse*
- A package labeled to contain Fentanyl 25 mcg/hr stored in a dresser*
- One plastic baggie containing white pills with unreadable writing and a “?” written on the bag.
- One plastic baggie containing light orange and light brown pills with “Clonidine” written on the bag.
*The fentanyl packaging was prescribed to a man who had passed away on July 20, 2022. According to the Vincennes Police Department, Donovan was the only coroner who responded to that scene.
During an interview with police, Donovan claimed she would take medication or any other evidence so that she could take pictures and/or return the property to the family of the deceased person.
Donovan claimed the marijuana and paraphernalia were from a death investigation out of Decker in 2021.
Donovan claimed she knew the man who had claimed he sold her Adderall, but that she only had dropped off paperwork at their home, but later backtracked after police explained Donovan had been seen on camera numerous times at the residence.
Police said Donovan then admitted to purchasing pills from the man as recently as 2-3 days before. Donovan told police she had never traded anything other than money for the pills.
“Donovan acknowledged that she knew it was illegal to buy pills from another person but advised she was just trying to make it,” police said. “Donovan advised she has been under a lot of stress with her health and family issues and doesn’t recall a lot for the last several months.”
Donovan’s husband told police that she would only bring medication into their house from investigation scenes to inventory the drugs. Adding that he didn’t think any items from a deceased person would be located in their home. The husband then expressed surprise when told that police had found Fentanyl packaging in their bedroom.
The husband also stated he had never seen Donovan use methamphetamine or Fentanyl. He said he had been to the Vincennes dealer’s home a few days beforehand to “drop off some TVs.”
Numerous Knox County officials have levied claims of official misconduct against Donovan, and have filed documents with the Knox County prosecutor asking him to seek judicial removal of Donovan from her position as coroner. She has reportedly not resigned from her position.
Below is an excerpt of the statement to WTWO from Knox County Prosecutor, Dirk Carnahan, regarding the investigation into Donovan’s potential removal from office.
Just like when a criminal complaint is made, the next step is investigation. Since this isn’t a criminal case, law enforcement agencies are not available to conduct the investigation. The investigator in my office will be used to conduct the investigation. This will consist of taking statements from witnesses and gathering any documents or other evidence needed to present the case.
Once that investigation is complete, if it appears that the case for removal can be legally proven and survive an appeal, a petition will be filed in Court. The Court will set that matter for hearing. The coroner or representative will then be allowed to conduct discovery, which could delay the hearing date.
At a hearing for removal, the State would have to prove that the elected official 1) Failed to perform multiple duties. 2) The elected official’s failures were non-feasance rather than malfeasance, i.e. the person was not performing the duties at all as opposed to performing the duties poorly or incorrectly. 3) The elected official’s nonfeasance significantly affected the day-to-day operations of the office.
The statute exists because the extraordinary remedy of any Court overriding the decision of voters should be reserved for only the rarest situations. In Indiana, this is an emergency remedy that is only available when the nonfeasance of the elected official “significantly impacts the day-to-day operations of the office.” Elected officials in Knox County have repeatedly assured the public that thanks to the hard work of other employees in the coroner’s office, the day-to-day operations were not significantly impacted.
The existence of criminal charges, filed against the coroner yesterday is not a factor in the removal process as all persons charged with a crime are presumed innocent unless and until found guilty in a Court. If an elected official is found guilty of a crime, particularly a felony, there are other remedies available for removal.
In summary, this is a fairly lengthy and complicated legal process. Despite a lot of public posturing up to this point, my office has been tasked with the investigation of this matter as of today. At a time when my investigator is working on shootings and violent crime investigations, adding another difficult task is not ideal.
That is a general overview of the process, and I will be able to provide no specifics until the investigation is complete.Dirk Carnahan
Donovan has been charged with the following;
- Possession of methamphetamine
- A level 6 felony
- Possession of a controlled substance
- A class A misdemeanor