State Law Could Hinder Coroner's Shift of Sexual Assault Exam Duties to Hospitals

The following article, by Wesley Muller, was published in the Louisiana Illuminator at Home • Louisiana Illuminator (

St. Tammany Parish coroner-elect Dr. Christopher Tape drew backlash from advocacy groups Thursday after he told reporters he intends to have local hospitals take over for his office’s sexual assault examination program. But state law might prevent him from taking that action.   

The St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office operates a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) team whose members respond to hospitals to conduct forensic examinations on sexual assault victims. 

The St. Tammany SANE team also serves as the lead entity on sexual assault exams for all hospitals in Louisiana Department of Health Region 9, which includes the five parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain.

Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR), a group that advocate for sexual assault survivors, strongly condemned Tape’s announcement in an email, saying such a move would leave thousands without access to highly trained forensic examiners. 

“STAR urges the St. Tammany Parish Coroner-Elect to reconsider his shortsighted decision and prioritize the well-being and rights of survivors,” STAR director Morgan Lamandre said. “We call upon community members, advocates and elected officials to join us in demanding the preservation of the SANE program.”

Tape received a similar level of criticism just a few weeks ago from residents and local officials who wanted him to relinquish his authority of the SANE program because he once faced criminal charges over 20 years ago. His ex-girlfriend accused him of molesting her daughter. The case was dismissed, and Tape has since not run afoul of the law. 

Tape officially takes office Monday, so his decision holds no weight until that time. Even then, his actual authority over the SANE program might depend on a more complicated set of factors than Tape and others have surmised. 

State laws don’t explicitly require coroners or hospitals to have a SANE program. One law specifically requires a parish coroner “or his designee” to examine all sexual assault victims, and in certain instances allows a coroner to designate a hospital to do so.

Another law requires all hospitals to follow a set of standards on how to conduct such exams and collect and preserve evidence. It also requires each state health region to develop an annual response plan for sexual assault examinations. Every local governing body, law enforcement agency, parish coroner and hospital within each region is supposed to collaborate on the regional plan and designate a lead entity on sexual assault exams for their region.

Tape has cited a provision in the law he believes gives him authority to designate local hospitals, in general, to conduct all sexual assault exams. But this authority is given when a particular licensed hospital or provider first fails to conduct an exam on a sexual assault victim at that hospital. In other words, it appears the coroner can designate certain hospitals or providers over others but only in the case of a certain hospital refusing to help a victim. 

Another provision allows the coroner to select a hospital or provider to conduct exams if that hospital or provider is named as the lead entity for sexual assault exams in the region. The lead entity listed in the 2024 regional plan for Region 9 is the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s SANE team. 

The law states the Louisiana Department of Health must approve all regional plans each year with input from hospitals in the region, each parish coroner and each government body. 

Lamandre said removing the SANE team from service would equate to Tape making a unilateral decision to upend a regional plan four other parish coroners, multiple hospitals and government boards agreed to last year — and have possibly come to depend on.