California County Reviews Scores of Autopsies by Doctor With Checkered Past

by for California Watch and ProPublica

Solano County’s sheriff and district attorney are reviewing 27 autopsies from homicide cases performed by a doctor with a history of errors and misdiagnosed rulings on causes of death.

Sheriff Gary Stanton said his staff is checking written autopsy reports filed by Dr. Thomas Gill, looking for inconsistencies and possible inaccuracies. Gill examined more than 300 deaths in Solano County from 2007 to 2009, financial records show.

“We just want to make sure that what we presented was accurate,” Stanton said of Gill’s autopsy reports. “We want to make sure that we didn’t withhold any information that should have gone to any defense attorney.”

Gill worked for Forensic Medical Group Inc., a private autopsy firm based in Fairfield that contracts with more than a dozen jurisdictions across Northern California.

This review comes in response to reporting on Gill’s forensic pathology career – published earlier this month — as part of a joint collaboration between California Watch, ProPublica, FRONTLINE, NPR and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.

Gill has repeatedly resurrected his career during the past 20 years despite autopsy errors in Indianapolis, Northern California and Kansas City, Mo. The California State Bar called the doctor “incompetent” in a 2006 report that detailed his work in a Sonoma County suspected homicide death.

Gill did not immediately respond to calls for comment today.

Officials at several of the coroners offices that relied on Gill in recent years said they were unaware of the doctor’s history. Stanton said Solano County District Attorney Donald Du Bain is researching whether that information must be disclosed to defense attorneys.

The Solano County review was first detailed this morning by The Reporter newspaper in Vacaville.

In December, Yolo County Sheriff-Coroner E.G. Prieto barred Gill from performing autopsies for his agency after learning from reporters about Gill’s past autopsy mistakes. The Yolo County sheriff is now checking the accuracy of Gill’s autopsy work in five homicide cases.

Forensic Medical Group did not immediately return calls for comment today.

The firm cut its ties with Gill at the end of last year, explaining in a written statement that it no longer had enough cases to justify employing the doctor. However, Forensic Medical Group wrote that it was “not aware of any significant errors in Dr. Gill’s work performance or reports.”

Stanton said that he alerted the firm about an inaccuracy in one of Gill’s reports in 2008.

An autopsy assistant discovered a spleen left behind in a morgue sink after Gill finished autopsying the body of an inmate who died in the California Medical Facility, a prison hospital. The organ was intact and had not been cut, Stanton said.

But when Gill submitted his report on the death, the doctor wrote that he had dissected the spleen as part of his examination.

“I have a report that says he did,” Stanton said. “I have a spleen that says he didn’t.”

The sheriff notified Forensic Medical Group of the discrepancy and asked that the firm no longer send Gill to perform its autopsies.

In 2009, Stanton said he hired Dr. Susan Comfort as Solano County’s chief forensic pathologist, replacing the private company.

Comfort, who previously worked with Gill at Forensic Medical Group, will lead the review of Gill’s autopsies.

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