The death of Elisa Gomez – the importance of going by the book

Recently, one of our investigators brought a case to my attention. Someone known to them had passed away under suspicious circumstances, but family and friends are astonished how her death was handled by the Minneapolis Police.

One does not need to be a trained professional investigator to grasp the basics. Lets examine a few facts that are involved, and you can draw your own conclusions.

Last October, Elisa Gomez was found deceased in her home with a scarf around her neck. She was by all accounts a positive and happy person, an art teacher who painted art on her walls and advocated for rescuing animals.

Elisa was married mere hours earlier, to a man she had known less than a month. (we will not release his name, as this is reportedly an ongoing investigation). The couple celebrated at the local bar, and then continued celebrating at home. At around 2-3 in the morning, John Ganapes, a neighbor called 911 concerned about “commotion outside his window”, telling police that the woman sounded very distraught. Later another 911 call brought police back to find Elisa dead. Reports do not show who placed the second 911 call.

Police were on scene less than an hour, and according to Elisa’s sister Angela, never secured the property as a crime scene “I don’t believe they’ve done their job; they were at her home for an hour, viewed it as a suicide and didn’t even lock down the home as a crime scene.” This goes against my professional training in two decades in Emergency Medical Services, which is to treat ALL death scenes as crime scenes until the Coroner takes control of the scene.
Since her death, only one news article on this tragedy can be found – HERE.

Per Minnesota statute:

390.11 INVESTIGATIONS.
Subdivision 1.Reports of death.
All sudden or unexpected deaths and all deaths that may be due entirely or in part to any factor other than natural disease processes must be promptly reported to the coroner or medical examiner for evaluation. Sufficient information must be provided to the coroner or medical examiner. Reportable deaths include, but are not limited to:

(1) unnatural deaths, including violent deaths arising from homicide, suicide, or accident;
(4) deaths under suspicious, unusual, or unexpected circumstances;
…The coroner or medical examiner shall determine the extent of the coroner’s or medical examiner’s investigation,…
Subd. 7.Duty to report.
Deaths of the types described in this section must be promptly reported for investigation to the coroner or medical examiner

Subd. 8.Investigation procedure; coroner or medical examiner in charge of body.

The medical examiner revealed that the cause of death was ligature hanging, but could not determine if it was homicide, suicide or accidental. This death then clearly falls under the purview of the Coroner and should be treated as a crime scene. My instructions from a Coroner are the same and the letter is quite clear that is MUST be treated as a crime scene and goes into significant detail about rendering medical care and scene preservation.
The full statute can be found here.

The Minneapolis Police Department’s Policy and Procedure Manual 10-100 : Crime Scene Reporting also lays out some specifics that also should be understood by the reader:
10-101 CRIME SCENE SUPERVISION (02/22/05) (05/13/05)
(A-B)
Crime scene processing will begin after incident stabilization of the scene. Incident command priorities of life safety, search and rescue, and security precede crime scene preservation and processing. (05/15/96)

Only the Watch Commander or on-scene investigative supervisor can relinquish a scene to another investigative agency.

After incident stabilization, the on-scene ranking investigative officer, or designee is in charge of a crime scene within the yellow tape. The on-scene ranking patrol supervisor or designee is in charge of the scene outside the yellow tape. Until an investigative officer arrives, the on-scene patrol supervisor will be responsible for the entire scene. The on-scene patrol supervisor is also in charge of the entire scene when the investigative supervisor leaves the scene. The on-scene supervisor will communicate to the patrol supervisor when they are relinquishing the scene.

Scene security shall remain in place until the Crime Lab personnel have finished processing the scene. Officers working security may only be released from an active scene on agreement between Crime Lab personnel and the on-scene supervisor.

10-107 NOTIFICATION OF INVESTIGATORS (07/17/01)
(A-C)
On-duty investigators and the on-duty Watch Commander shall be notified immediately in the following situations:

  • Homicides
  • Assault with injury on a public safety officer (police, fire, ambulance) or any MPD employee
  • All suicides and DOA’s – on-duty investigators (04/01/93)
  • All suicides and suspicious DOA’s – Watch Commander

10-109 HOMICIDE OR SUSPICIOUS DEATH SCENE (07/17/01)

10-110 NOTIFICATION OF THE MEDICAL EXAMINER (07/17/01)
(A-B)

In the event of a homicide or suspicious death, an on-scene Homicide investigator shall notify the Medical Examiner’s office as soon as possible.

In all other deaths, officers shall notify the Medical Examiner’s office by telephone, even if a qualified physician is present. Personnel from the Medical Examiner’s office will determine whether they will investigate the scene or release the body to a funeral home.

For brevity’s sake I left out a fair bit of text from the manual, however the context is quite clear from the MPD’s manual – if the death is suspicious in nature, the scene is to be completely and immediately secured. To view these policies in full visit :
http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/police/policy/mpdpolicy_10-100_10-100

Now, as we were not present and have not seen any evidence released, we cannot form an opinion as to whether proper procedures / laws were followed. If the reports from her sister are accurate it certainly raises some questions.

There are a number of other issues at issue here as well.

While the authorities did talk to her husband, he is not considered a suspect or person of interest despite his history and multiple convictions for domestic violence – 2 misdemeanor domestic assault convictions and, much more interestingly a felony domestic assault by strangulation conviction. He has a number of other charges and convictions including terroristic threats.

Elisa’s husband also did not show up for the funeral of his new bride, her family points out along with the fact that he went from being homeless and jobless to inheriting everything she owned.

We have also been made aware of at least one rather suspicious Facebook posting regarding cancelling the wedding to plan a funeral.

While nothing here is proof of a crime, family and friends are flabbergasted that an initial report could indicate suicide with so many factors that just don’t pass the smell test.

We will update this when more information becomes available.