Two San Joaquin County forensic pathologists have accused the sheriff of meddling in death investigations in order to protect officers of the law. Documents released Monday by a pathologist who announced her resignation last week raise serious questions about the integrity of investigations of people who died in the custody of law enforcement officers who used Tasers or other types of force.
Dr. Susan Parson, who performs autopsies for the county, accused Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore of interfering with her work, and sent copies of emails, notes and other correspondence to the district attorney and the Board of Supervisors documenting her claims.
‘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 documents, obtained by KQED, also include correspondence and memos written by the county’s chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu.
The Nigerian-born neuropathologist rose to national prominence in 2005 after he published his discovery of a degenerative brain disease in football players he named chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. His discovery was documented in the 2015 film “Concussion,” starring Will Smith.
San Joaquin County hired Omalu in 2007 to raise the standards of death investigations. But in a memo Omalu wrote on Aug. 22, 2017, he indicated it was a losing prospect.
“I have always believed that the longer I spent in the office, the better the office would become,” Omalu wrote. “I was wrong.”
In March 2017, Omalu and Parson began documenting incidents they believe show wrongdoing by Sheriff Moore. The two doctors allege the sheriff labeled certain deaths as “accidents” rather than “homicides” to shield from prosecution law enforcement officers who were involved.
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