San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti is facing possible censure over comments that he made to a local media outlet in December of 2018 about who he would like to see hired back as San Joaquin County’s Chief Medical Officer.
In a tense back-and-forth during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Patti – who represents an area that includes Lathrop and Manteca north of Yosemite Avenue – took a stand against accusations by fellow Supervisor Chuck Winn that he violated the board’s code of ethics for comments he made in support of former San Joaquin County Medical Examiner Bennet Omalu.
“We clearly have the most qualified pathologist candidate or medical examiner candidate that we could ever dream of having,” Patti was quoted in an article that ran in the Stockton Record in early December.
Omalu, who achieved professional and personal fame for his discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former professional football players and was subsequently played by Will Smith in a blockbuster Hollywood film, resigned from his position over what he claimed was the overstepping of former San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore.
Just a week after the county’s other medical examiner resigned in protest of Moore’s involvement with the decision-making inside of the coroner’s office, Omalu also publicly resigned in a move that sent shockwaves through the community and became a focal point in a heated race for Sheriff.
Ultimately Pat Withrow defeated Moore, who was vying for his fourth term, but not before the Board of Supervisors voted to separate the office or coroner from the duties of the elected sheriff.
Omalu, who resigned from his position in December of 2017 but remained with the county through March of the following year to clear a backlog of cases, did not apply for the Chief Medical Examiner position that the Board of Supervisors created to head-up the new division that is free of law enforcement oversight. In a report that was issued just days after Patti’s comments to the Stockton Record, San Joaquin County Counsel Myles’ stated that Omalu was concerned that the background check for the employment was going to be conducted while Moore was still sheriff, and that he chose not to apply under those circumstances.
Myles pointed out that Patti’s comments about Omalu were “ambiguous” and could have been perceived in number of different ways – some of which may have run afoul of the board’s ethics policy.
In his comments to the board, Patti said that he saw the issue as a matter of freedom of speech and noted that he had private counsel looking into the matter on his behalf.
“I believe we have an issue of freedom of speech, and my ability to express my own individual opinion,” Patti said. “For the record, I will openly state that I will not be silenced, I will speak up for my constituents, and for anybody that I feel has been treated unfairly.
“Every day of the week I am available to discuss county matters, and I am most disappointed that I was not once contacted by Supervisor Winn nor anybody else for clarity on what I said, let alone the interpretation of what I said when I spoke with Record reporter Roger Phillips.”
The board ultimately decided in a 3-2 vote to postpone the discussion about censure and ordered Myles to investigate the matter further.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.