San Joaquin, California – The resignation of a chief autopsy doctor has raised questions as he is now claiming that he chose to resign because he no longer wanted to stand by and watch the sheriff override his findings from death investigations, in order to protect law enforcement.
Former Chief Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, claimed that when he was conducting autopsies on individuals who were killed by police officers, Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore attempted to influence his medical findings, according to a report from KQED News.
Based on a series of documents that include memos from Omalu, the report claims the doctor said some of the most alarming death investigations Moore tried to override were those of people who “died in the custody of law enforcement officers who used Tasers or other types of force.”
“The sheriff was using his political office as the coroner to protect police officers whenever someone died while in custody or during arrest. I had thought that this was initially an anomaly, but now, especially beginning in 2016, it has become routine practice.”
The resignations of both Dr. Omalu and his colleague, Dr. Susan Parson, come months after they began documenting Moore’s behavior in March. Their complaints against the sheriff include accusations that he routinely changed the labels on “homicides” to “accidents,” and he would delay the written reports pathologists needed from sheriff’s investigators in order to complete their cases for months.
The doctors also claim that on several occasions, when overseeing coroner operations, Moore would order technicians to “cut the hands off bodies, without the knowledge, consent or supervision of the physicians.”
A report from the Sacramento Bee noted that according to the doctors, Moore’s staff “ordered the hands be cut off of at least five corpses this year to be sent to a forensics lab to identify the deceased.” While the sheriff claimed that the purpose was for identification, the doctors allege that “in some instances, the victims’ identity was already known and in others, police failed to attempt to identify the dead by investigative means.”
“Sheriff Steve Moore has always made calculated attempts to control me as a physician and influence my professional judgement,” Omalu wrote, noting that while he became the county’s chief forensic pathologist in 2007, the treatment has gotten worse over the last two years.
As the report from KQED noted, there were a number of deaths documents by Dr. Omalu that called Moore’s conduct into question. One of the cases occurred when Daniel Humphreys died in 2008. Initial reports claimed that the father of two young children was fleeing from police on his motorcycle when he hit a median in the freeway and died. Officers admitted that they shocked Humphreys with a Taser once or twice.
However, Omalu noted that when he went to check the automatic computer records of how many times the Taser was fired, he was told the record did not exist. It wasn’t until two years later that a deputy district attorney let him see the Taser report, which revealed that police shocked Humphreys with a Taser 31 times.
After viewing the Taser report, Omalu changed the cause of Humphreys’ death from “accident” from a head injury, to “homicide by electrocution.
Moore released a statement on the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, denying the allegations that he interfered with the results of the death investigations conducted by Dr. Omalu and Dr. Susan Parson.
“There have been questions recently about whether I have interfered with forensic investigations. That has never happened. 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.”
However, Omalu is not backing down. In addition to resigning from his position, he is attempting to shed light on the ongoing problems within the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, which has found a way to ensure that officers who murder innocent citizens will not face consequences.
“The Sheriff does whatever he feels like doing as the coroner, in total disregard of bioethics, standards of practice of medicine and the generally accepted principles of medicine,” Dr. Omalu wrote.
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