Heart lies at center of mother’s lawsuit

The mother of a deceased man, whose heart was kept by the San Mateo Coroner’s Office after his death last October, is now suing the county and Coroner Robert Foucrault for property damage, personal injury and punitive damages.

Selina Picon, mother of Nicholas Picon, who died of heart disease at 23, is accusing Foucrault and the county of not notifying her about keeping the heart in order to send it for examination to Stanford University. Picon learned the heart was missing from her son’s body two weeks after his burial. Upon her request, Foucrault sent it to her in a box.

Picon said this caused her grief and agony, and her questions on why the coroner kept the heart without notifying her have not been answered.

“They never talked to me, they were just placating me,” says Picon, a Daly City resident. “What they didn’t understand isthat I’m first a mother and I wanted to know why they did what they did. And I still don’t know.”

Picon’s attorney, Ayanna Jenkins-Toney, explained that the lawsuit disputes a state law that says coroners can keep the deceased body’s tissues, but have to notify next of kin if they retain any organs. The lawsuit is filed as an unlimited civil case seeking damages in excess of $25,000, Jenkins-Toney said.

“The county is very sorry for her [Picon’s] loss,” Foucrault said Thursday. “But we believe we acted in the law. I’ve been operating with this law for 20-plus years, and it’s the first time something like this happens.”

Following last year’s incident, the San Mateo Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the Coroner’s Office to notify next of kin in case of any organ retention and to seek the family’s consent.

Picon said she recently approached state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, to work on a new bill regulating state coroners’ retention rights and procedures. Yee has not confirmed the relationship.

Picon said the lawsuit is a hard step for her to take, but she hopes it will lead to protection for families and clearer guidelines for coroners.

Selina’s story

» Oct. 25, 2006: Nicholas Picon, 23, dies of heart disease

» Nov. 13, 2006: Selina Picon, Nicholas’ mother, finds out his heart was retained by the Coroner’s Office

» Feb. 23, 2007: Assemblymember Gene Mullin introduces bill to regulate state coroners’ retention rights

» May 22, 2007: San Mateo County Board of Supervisors passes resolution to “strongly encourage” Coroner’s Office to notify next of kin

» May 31, 2007: Mullin’s coroner-notification bill is held

» Thursday: Selina Picon announces lawsuit seeking punitive damages

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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