Joshua Baker, a Muncie, Indiana man, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Randolph County, Indiana Sheriff's Department for violating his Fourth Amendment and civil rights after Detectives George Hopper and Robert Scaife discarded his mother's ashes during a search of his home.
According to the suit, while searching Baker’s belongings, Scaife found a “velvet bag” containing a “chrome colored vial.” Upon opening that vial, Scaife “found it contained a (gray) powder” and placed the vial on the kitchen counter. From there, Hopper is accused of taking off his latex gloves and putting “the open chrome vial and the latex gloves in a garbage can located outside the residence, allowing all of the (gray) powder to fall to the bottom of the garbage can,” which was “filled with rainwater.”
“The chrome colored vial that Defendant Hopper picked up and negligently discarded in a garbage can filled with rainwater was in fact the urn and ashes of Mr. Baker’s deceased mother,” the lawsuit says. “Because Defendant (Hopper’s) actions in negligently discarding the remains of a human in a garbage can along with the urn, Mr. Baker no longer has the ashes of his deceased mother.”
Mr. Baker is seeking compensatory damages of approximately $1 million, due to his "damages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress." He is also seeking punitivate damages and attorneys' fees.
Although Mr. Baker is fighting an uphill battle, this case could be very interesting because although the general rule is that there is no property interest in human remains, Indiana is the only state which has a case that has held differently -- Bogert v. The City of Indianapolis, 13 Ind. 137 (1859), where the Supreme Court of Indiana held that "that the bodies of the dead belong to the surviving relations, in the order of inheritance, as property." I wouldn't put too much stock in a 154 year old case that is contrary to virtually every other case in an American appellate court over the past 200+ years, but its worth a shot. The Bogert case could support a claim for conversion in Indiana, which would fail in any other state.