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Moore dismisses autopsy allegations

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POSTED December 7, 2017 1:27 a.m.

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore flat-out denies that he has interfered in any forensic investigations in the office that he oversees as the Coroner.
A day after the county’s Chief Medical Examiner – world-renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu – resigned and repeated bombshell allegations levied by the forensic pathologist who resigned last week over what she claimed was interference by Moore in death investigations, the county’s top law enforcement official released a statement denying the allegations of Omalu and Dr. Susan Parson.
“There are questions recently about whether I interfered with forensic investigations. That never happened,” Moore said in the statement. “I would never try to control, influence, or change the opinions of Dr. Omalu or any pathologist working on a case, but I still have the responsibility of making the final determination.”
Per their contract, both Omalu and Parson will stay on with the country for three months, but both will cease to conduct autopsies and will instead focus on backlogged cases and other tasks until they leave their employment.
Omalu, who gained recognition and widespread fame for being the forensic pathologist that discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the brains of deceased NFL players, said in a letter to San Joaquin County Administrator Monica Nino that he stands by the series of memorandums that were released by Parson upon her resignation that detail a variety of scenarios in which the duo feel that Moore overstepped his authority and potentially jeopardized the integrity of investigations.
And some of those memos, which were written by Parson over the course of the last year to document the allegations, go beyond simple interference – alleging in instance that Moore approved the dismemberment of a body without the oversight of a physician.
According to Parson’s account, on June 5 she declined to remove the jaws of a deceased individual so that an identification could be made since the identity was already in the system – the identity and the cause of death were reportedly already determined by the deceased’s primary care physician. In order for her to make the incision necessary to remove the jaw for the Odonatologist, she wrote, it would have to be a coroner’s case which it was not at the time.
It wasn’t until later that she was informed that the decedent’s hands had been removed for identification through the California Department of Justice’s lab. She contends when she checked Coroner’s narrative case notes she realized that there was no notation whatsoever about the dismemberment of the body.
The DOJ was unable to verify the identity through the subsequent fingerprint comparison.
“It is strictly inappropriate for the Coroner, or his designee, to order an autopsy technician to make any such incision into a body without first making it a corner case and second, providing a venue for a licensed forensic pathologist to be involved in a postmortem examination first,” Parson wrote. “At no point ever is it appropriate, or legal, for anyone other than a licensed forensic pathologist (or qualified technical personnel under the supervision of a licensed forensic pathologist) to make any incision, obtain any sample, or remove a part of a body for purposes relating to death investigation, as (California) law stipulates that only a licensed physician may perform an autopsy.”
While Moore didn’t address each of the accusations against him and his office that were levied by Parson and Omalu, he did, in his statement, mention the removal of the hands from a deceased individual and offer an explanation.
“Sometimes the job requires us to determine a person’s identity,” Moore wrote. “In very rare occasions, when a person cannot be identified, and when all other methods of identifying a person are not available or cannot be utilized, the Coroner’s Office will remove a digit or hand and send it to the California Department of Justice to be processed at their lab.
“There, fingerprint analysis is used to formally identify the person. At all times, the descendents’ families are in our thoughts, and we want to make sure that we have identified the right person.”
All of the notes from both doctors – Omalu also began documenting issues of concern – have been sent to the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office for their review and consideration.
“The District Attorney’s Office is in receipt of information relating to the allegations made by our San Joaquin County pathologists. This office is in the process of gathering information concerning homicide cases, including deaths relating to law enforcement officer involvement,” the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement on Dec. 4. “It is important to note that the District Attorney’s office does not rely on the coroner’s report to file cases. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office conducts an independent review of the pathology as well as reports from the investigating law enforcement agency, other independent agencies such as the California Department of Justice, and under certain circumstances, our own investigative unit, to determine whether a crime was committed, what crime was committed (such as manslaughter or murder) and who committed the crime.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.

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