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Pathologist says Moore interferes on autopsies

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POSTED December 6, 2017 1:59 a.m.

The world-renowned forensic pathologist that was hired in San Joaquin County to help clear a backlog of cases and bring credibility to the Coroner’s office is resigning.
And he’s leveling allegations against San Joaquin County Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore, whom he claims has consistently interfered with medical investigations into deaths in the county.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first to document chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the brains of deceased NFL players, announced his resignation Tuesday as the county’s chief medical officer. He’s the second forensic pathologist to resign from the county after Dr. Susan Parson announced her resignation late last week, lodging similar complaints against the county’s top law enforcement official.
Omalu said he will stop conducting autopsies immediately and noted his departure won’t take effect for three months under his county contract.
Moore told radio station KQED that he doesn’t interfere in death investigations, but as the elected coroner he can make the final decision on whether to rule the manner of death an accident, homicide, suicide or the result of natural causes.
Omalu and Parson said the interference at times included ordering that hands be cut off corpses without telling the pathologists.
Moore told the radio station that he would sometimes order the hands removed from corpses that were too decomposed to identify so they could be sent to the California Department of Justice’s crime lab for fingerprinting.
Omalu declined to comment beyond what was included in the documents.
Omalu didn’t mince any words in his four-page resignation letter that was submitted to San Joaquin County Administrator Monica Nino. He included language that supported everything that Parson had written in her letter announcing the same just days earlier.
Associated Press reported that Omalu said last year he ruled the death of a 26-year-old man a homicide by blunt force trauma after the man fought with police and with other residents.
“The sheriff called me into his office and told me that he wanted to make it an accident since officers were involved,” Omalu wrote. “He said that I should amend my report and state that he died from the civilian and not the police officers.”
He cited similar cases in 2013 and another in 2016 where he said he later learned the sheriff changed a homicide ruling involving an officer to an accidental death.
He also cited a 2007 case, early in his time in California, when he said a 47-year-old man died while being arrested.
“Information was intentionally withheld from me by the sheriff in order to mislead me from determining the case to be a homicide,” Omalu wrote. “The sheriff still went behind my back months later and changed the manner of death to an accident to minimize the seriousness of the case.”
“Recently, I became frigidly afraid that in continuing to work under the circumstances Steve Moore has created in his office, that I may be aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine,” Omalu wrote. “This would jeopardize my medical license. On many occasions, I met with him privately and provided him written memorandums trying to explain to him that the law does not allow him to insert himself in the duties of a physician unless he is a licensed physician.
“He dismissed me and stated that Dr. Parson and I work for him, and as long as we were his workers, that we must do anything and everything he asks us to do, even when we considered his actions against our standards of practice and the generally accepted principles of medicine.”
Moore was out of the office tending to a family medical matter on Tuesday. A call placed to Public Information Officer Dave Konecny was not immediately returned.
A statement issued by the office of District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said prosecutors do not rely on coroner’s reports when they decide whether to file criminal charges. The office does its own independent review of the pathology reports as well as reports from other law enforcement agencies.
Within hours of Omalu’s announcement, the story had become national news and caught the attention of longtime Moore critics, including Pat Withrow, who has announced that he will again challenge Moore for his office in November.
“It’s definitely shocking to me that after 28 years in this department we have behavior like this that is taking place,” Withrow said. “We were all so proud when we were able to get Dr. Omalu, who is a world-renowned forensic pathologist, and we were just as excited when Dr. Parson came on. To hear that they were treated the way they were treated – I wish I could say that it’s surprising, but since I know how Steve Moore treats his employees, it’s not.
“No employee, especially with what is going on in the world today, should be okay with knowing that this type of behavior occurs in our department.”
Withow, who retired last year, said that one his priorities if elected would be to call for the separation of the two offices – of the sheriff and the coroner – and ask that they be regarded as separate departments within the county structure as a way to keep medical decisions independent of law enforcement oversight.
Doing so, he said, would ensure transparency for the public and keep those decisions on death investigations autonomous.
“All we want as officers, who put our lives on the line for this job as well as our reputations and even our families, is to be treated fairly,” Withrow said. “If something happens, be it good or bad, we just want to ensure that fairness and honesty are at the heart of the investigation.
“We don’t need some politician messing with the facts of the case – this is the worst-case scenario, because it appears that he has been messing with the facts.”
Both Parson and Omalu will stay on in their current capacity for another three months – the term required for leaving their jobs per the contract signed with the county – but both plan on halting their participation with autopsies as soon as next week.

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