Proposal to spend $400K on death investigators in Williamson County

Death investigator proposal for justices of the peace.

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Taxpayers in a Central Texas county are being asked to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to create three new positions for death investigators. The job is already being done but it’s putting a toll on some justices of the peace.

Hundreds of sheets of paper sit before Judge Bill Gravell, Jr., one of four justices of the peace for Williamson County. It’s paperwork he deals with for the 128 death investigations in his precinct over the last year.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” said Judge Gravell.

As a justice of the peace, Judge Gravell must respond to unnatural deaths outside of a medical facility to determine the cause. Handling death investigations are in addition to his regular responsibilities of trying cases in the courtroom.

Judges can get called out of their courtrooms at any time for a death investigation, whether the benches are full or not. They’re also on-call 24 hours a day. That’s why Judge Gravell supports a proposal to hire three, full-time death investigators.

It could end up costing taxpayers more than $400,000.

“It’s important that whether our constituents are alive or deceased, that we treat them with the utmost level of integrity and honor, and part of that is getting to the results as fast as we can,” said Gravell.

Williamson County Commissioner Lisa Birkman is hesitant to approve the proposal, which she says did not go through the normal budget process.

“As a watchdog of the taxpayers’ dollars, I want to make sure it’s needed, and when my own justice of peace feels like it’s not needed, I’m going to have to take a long hard look at it,” said Birkman, commissioner of Precinct 1.

Birkman and her fellow commissioners could vote on the proposal as early as Tuesday.

Commissioner Birkman says the justice of the peace in her precinct, Judge Dain Johnson, does not support this plan. Neither does Judge Edna Staudt. Judge Staudt tells KXAN she does not want to spend more taxpayer dollars for services that are already being handled.

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