Pensacola, FL-- A former assistant medical examiner who kept body parts of more than 100 people in his Pensacola storage unit was arrested Friday, authorities said.
Dr. Michael Berkland, 57, faces a felony charge of improper storage of hazardous waste, a misdemeanor charge of nuisance injurious to public health and driving with a suspended license. He was released from jail after posting a $10,000 bond.
State Attorney Bill Eddins said Berkland had been under surveillance by investigators and was arrested as he drove away from his East Government Street home.
The human remains were discovered in a storage locker at Uncle Bob's Self Storage after the unit was auctioned off.
Berkland's arrest affidavit says the doctor rented the facility for about three years and had been behind on his payments at least six times, but settled his account each time just before repossession.
However, Berkland finally defaulted on his payments, and on Aug. 22, the unit was auctioned off.
Philip Knight bought it for $900 plus taxes and fees.
Berkland had declared the contents to be household goods, furniture, boxes, sporting goods and landscaping equipment.
Knight previously told the News Journal that he and his wife found the body parts when they started rummaging through the unit after buying the contents.
Ten cardboard boxes stacked in the corner of the unit contained "numerous individual containers with ... human remains stored in a liquid substance," according to an affidavit for Berkland's arrest. Other containers were found in plastic garbage bags.
The medical examiner's office has said the remains appear to be from private autopsies that Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in Pensacola, Panama City, Fort Walton Beach and Tallahassee.
Eric Stevenson, Berkland's attorney, said Friday that he and his client "haven't had a chance to start preparing the defense."
"We'll be starting that early next week," Stevenson said.
Berkland was hired by the medical examiner's office in 1997. He was fired in May 2003 for keeping a large backlog of cases and failing to complete autopsy reports in a timely manner.
Related: Body Parts Found In Auctioned Storage Unit
He previously was fired as a medical examiner in Jackson County, Mo., in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports.
His doctor's license was revoked in Missouri, and it subsequently was revoked in Florida.
Cause for arrest
The Uncle Bob's storage unit smelled of formaldehyde, a chemical used to preserve and embalm bodies, the arrest affidavit says.
In total, 111 containers with body parts were found. Most of the containers were labeled and included the initials "MEB" on them.
The affidavit says about half of the containers with body parts were medical grade.
The other half consisted primarily of Ziploc-style plastic sandwich boxes and a 32-ounce Styrofoam drink cup from a Dodge's convenience store.
"Most of the human remains were stored in formalin, a liquid solution containing formaldehyde and methyl alcohol," the affidavit says.
However, the affidavit says some of the packages, such as the Styrofoam cup, were damaged, "causing the formalin to leak out and the samples to dry up."
"The remains included tissue samples and dissected organs," the affidavit says. "(Investigators) also advised that there were numerous whole organs, including hearts, brains, a liver and a lung."
More charges may be forthcoming, though State Attorney Eddins said it may be "several weeks or months" before that decision is made.
"(The Medical Examiner's Office) is in the process of helping us locate the family members of the decedents whose (body parts) were in the custody of Mr. Berkland ... " Eddins said. "Then, if the family who has the 'rightful ownership' did not give him consent, we will evaluate whether criminal charges will be appropriate."