California County Ends Review of Autopsy Mistakes

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May 24, 2012

The Solano County sheriff’s office has decided not to review about 300 autopsies performed by Dr. Thomas Gill, a forensic pathologist who, in 2006, was declared “incompetent” by the California State Bar.

An initial review of about 30 of Dr. Gill’s autopsies found problems in more than half of the cases, reports California Watch’s Ryan Gabrielson, but the sheriff’s office says the additional 300 cases are not believed to involve foul play. Solano County Chief Deputy Coroner Lt. Gary Faulkner also cited budget and resource constraints in the decision.

As we reported last year in Post Mortem, our examination of death investigation in America, Dr. Gill’s checkered past stretches across multiple states over more than a decade, in part due to the fact that there are no national standards or records for death investigators:

[5:34]

One of the most egregious cases uncovered in Solano County’s review of Dr. Gill’s work involves the death of Ricky Meyi, whose burned body was found in a ditch in 2008. Seven people pleaded guilty to crimes related to Meyi’s death, the cause of which, according to Gill, was “complications of blunt force injuries.”

But after reviewing the case, Dr. Bennet Omalu declared that Gill’s original autopsy findings were “unreasonable,” stating that, “while this case may still be a homicide, there is no objective evidence that was elicited by by the autopsy” to indicate that manner of death. For example, Omalu said the “blunt-force injuries” identified by Gill may have been natural marks stemming from the way blood pools after death.

From 2007 to 2010, Gill ruled on more than 1,000 death investigations in eight California counties as a contractor employed by the Forensic Medical Group, or FMG. Solano, Yolo and Sonoma Counties, among others, at one point or another had contracts with FMG pathologists to perform autopsies for its coroners. The sheriff-coroner in Yolo County was unaware of Gill’s past until we interviewed him as part of Post Mortem:

[1:26]

In a 2011 letter to FRONTLINE, Dr. Gill defended his record, writing, “At times an error or omission may have occurred, however it had no bearing upon the determination of cause and manner of death.”


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