The executive apologized for the late evening call. He had been referred to Hillard Heintze through his general counsel and appeared thoroughly briefed on the firm’s credentials. He didn’t take much time to get to the point. “We lost our son a few months ago. We’re still reeling and the police have not closed out their investigation. They’re treating it as an overdose, but,” he paused, “we just want to be sure.”
A Highly Sensitive Matter.
At the close of the 40-minute conversation, he formally authorized the firm’s investigation of the postmortem examination and circumstances surrounding his son’s death. He also specifically asked that information be gathered on his son’s girlfriend, their history together and their relationships with others. “One more thing,” he said at the end of the meeting. “This has attracted a lot of press. I’d like to be transparent with what we find out. Please be prepared to speak with the media once you have your findings in hand.
A Dozen Interviews. A Hundred Questions.
Over the next two weeks, we interviewed the late college student’s friends, classmates and girlfriend. We secured an appointment with the command officers and investigators from the major city police department and conducted an in-person interview with the Deputy Medical Examiner. As the story was picked up by media outlets across the country, we also met, at the client’s request, with one of the nation’s leading news organizations and answered its anchor’s questions on the matter.
Hillard Heintze was able to confirm that the cause of death was accidental due to the acute mix of oxycodone and ethanol and that there had been no indication of a struggle or quarrel between the deceased and his girlfriend. The young man’s friends indicated that he had occasionally used or experimented with several types of drugs in the past including narcotics and anti-anxiety prescriptions. There was no indication he was suffering from depression. Friends and witnesses described him as stable, coherent, nice and friendly and not prone to reckless behavior. In contrast, the girlfriend’s friends described her as unstable and frequently under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Theories Discounted. And a New Peace of Mind.
While this investigation opened up no new avenues of inquiry, it uncovered information – and discounted several theories about what might have occurred in the 72 hours prior to the tragic event – information that provided peace of mind to the young man’s parents and other family members.
Unplugged: The Project Manager’s Perspective.
“This was actually an extensive investigation, involving multiple interviews, an examination of the autopsy and toxicology reports, detailed inquiries into the young man’s financial records and forensic analysis of his computer and tablet.
“I am confident in our results and findings. While there were one or two tactical channels we could have continued to pursue, we did not believe they would yield information that would have justified additional cost. We advised the client of his options, and then supported his decision to have us stand down on the case.”
Two Key Take-Aways.
1. Consider Engaging a Strategic Advisor When Your Corporation – or One of Its Executives – Encounters Matters Involving Law Enforcement: Sometimes it helps to have an advocate who can liaise with law enforcement authorities on your behalf – not just on death investigations but also on matters relating to issues such as fraud and embezzlement, employee behavior, or compliance. This can help ensure that the right resources are brought to bear on matters impacting your people, operations and assets and that, where appropriate, information sharing between key parties occurs in a timely manner.
2. Realize that Getting a “Second Opinion” Can Be Important: Just having qualified experts looking over the shoulders of an agency’s process can be quietly effective. And sometimes there are gray areas in how law enforcement matters can be handled – areas that are not always transparent to you and your various corporate teams.