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Old 02-02-2011, 08:02 PM
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Skull There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Frontline last night was about how messed up the system of death investigation is in this country. There is zero federal oversight, zero state oversight, even the private companies who do the pathology work for some counties that have no medical examiner on staff don't seem to give a rat's ass about hiring competent people with proper credentials.

Some places have elected coroners (hello NOLA) who are obviously beholden to a variety of interests and who don't even have to be doctors, never mind forensic pathologists. If they fuck up, good luck trying to get them to admit it. Meanwhile innocent people go to jail or have their reputations destroyed, and murderers get off scott free because the medical examiner couldn't tell the difference between an accidental fall and a fatal beating.

It kind of makes me want to become a forensic pathologist (you know, for science!). I was always good in Chemistry, although if I'm honest I'm probably too squeamish for the gig.

You can watch the whole episode on the PBS site. Below is the segment covering a complete clown who skipped all over the country fucking up autopsy after autopsy and killing a court case (together with the despicably unethical prosecutor) with his incompetence and lies. There are images of corpses being examined and organs being cut. Nothing I found disturbing. It's the stories that are disturbing.

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Old 02-02-2011, 08:08 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

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Originally Posted by livius drusus View Post
Some places have elected coroners (hello NOLA) who are obviously beholden to a variety of interests and who don't even have to be doctors, never mind forensic pathologists.
Our county has an elected coroner. I thought that was odd, and and even odder that some of the candidates had a party preference listed in the election pamphlet.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:10 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

There is also a major problem with people wrongly convicted of felony crimes they did not commit - some even put to death.

Larry King did an episode about it. There were about twelve guests who were prisoners wrongly convicted of murder. One of them was a white man, the rest were black men.

Of course modern technology helps a lot to determined who was screwed, but many of them have been in prison for decades. Even more have yet to be released or retried. It's a shame.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:11 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

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murderers get off scott free because the medical examiner couldn't tell the difference between an accidental fall and a fatal beating.
From what I read of a recent local trial, there was never a conclusive medical determination of whether a local woman committed suicide or was murdered, though they tried her boyfriend for murder. They used the possibility of suicide as the defense and the guy got off.

All the circumstantial evidence points to his having been there at the time of the shooting (he was seen leaving the scene shortly after the gunshot was heard, by neighbors) and his actions afterward indicated guilt, or at least knowing he would look guilty, but without good forensic evidence there was nothing else to use on either side. The county said they don't use gunpowder residue tests, for example.

Last edited by LadyShea; 02-02-2011 at 08:17 PM. Reason: clarification
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:12 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Well, innocent people wrongly convicted is not news to me. The utter lack of forensic pathology standards is. Or did you mean that those guests on Larry King were convicted due to faulty post mortems?
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:13 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea View Post
Quote:
murderers get off scott free because the medical examiner couldn't tell the difference between an accidental fall and a fatal beating.
From what I read of the trial, there was never a conclusive medical determination of whether a local woman committed suicide or was murdered, though they tried her boyfriend for murder. They used the possibility of suicide as the defense and the guy got off.
I wasn't actually referring to that case, but to the NOLA case of a man who had killed a cop and was found dead the next day, beaten to a pulp. The coroner said it was an accidental fall.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:16 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Sorry badly worded, I was using a local case here as a further example of a basic piece of information that medical examiners miss...like whether someone shot themselves or were shot by another.

Last edited by LadyShea; 02-02-2011 at 08:32 PM.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:22 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US


Here's a clip. He had some other guests that week covering the same topic who were also falsely imprisoned. In some cases I am sure it would be do to faulty standards, righ? Wouldn't there have to be in most cases of false conviction? Excuse me if I am missing the mark.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:26 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Interesting. I'd hoped that path had been mistaken about the type and/or grade of tumor but it has been confirmed by several groups of pathologists.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:43 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Ten years ago, Tara Baker, a UGA law student, was killed in her apartment in Athens. Her murder remains unsolved. Until last month, her death certificate had not been released by the coroner in ACC because it contained information that only the murderer would have known. Or at least, that was the party line. The comments in the ACC paper (I know, a trusted source!) mentioned that the coroner is a past/present police officer.

Without her death certificate, her family had no way of proving that she was dead after her identity was stolen. Which I'm sure was just an additional kick in the teeth, only this time it was by the government.

The Athens paper wrote their yearly article about her and her family, and the next day the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner called and told the county coroner to release the death certificate with "multiple injuries associated with homicidal violence" as the cause of death. I'm sure you could have been even more descriptive and not tipped anyone off.

Anyway, it was just a highlight of how an unprofessional coroner can screw with people. It lowers community trust in government.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:48 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

In New Mexico, all autopsies are performed at the Office of the Medical Investigator located in Albequerque. In every case of sudden or unexplained death, a Field Deputy Medical Investigator is dispatched to the scene. What is appalling to me is the requirements to be one of these investigators:

Quote:
Under indirect supervision, on an on-call basis, responds to and participates in the on-scene investigation of unnatural and/or unattended deaths, and prepares reports for the Office of the Medical Investigator as required. Remains available to respond to reportable deaths on a 24-hour basis, as per call schedule.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

1. Travels to the scene of homicides, suicides, accidental, questionable, and/or unattended deaths as required, on behalf of the Office of the Medical Investigator, in accordance with established call schedule.
2. Takes custody of remains in accordance with prescribed protocol and procedure; performs initial on-scene examination of remains; takes photographs and collects information relevant or related to cause and manner of death.
3. Conducts joint investigations of cause of death in association with law enforcement officials attending the scene.
4. Occasionally conducts external examination of bodies and collects bodily fluids, as may be required in individual cases.
5. Collects data and prepares reports on death investigations to the central office, in accordance with pre-established policy and procedure, ensuring accuracy and completeness of information.
6. Conducts followup investigations as required.
7. Occasionally attends and provides evidence/testimony as required at pre-trial and/or court hearings, as may be required in individual cases.
8. Practices appropriate safety, environmental, and/or infection control methods.
9. Performs miscellaneous job-related duties as assigned.

MINIMUM JOB REQUIREMENTS:

High school diploma or GED with no previous work experience required.
These people are paid something on the order of $75 per call.
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  #12  
Old 02-02-2011, 08:49 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea View Post
Sorry badly worded, I was using a local case here as a further example of a basic piece of information that medical examiners miss...like whether someone shot themselves or were shot by another.
Ohh... I thought you were talking about the case in the embedded video because it revolved around a woman who was found dead, then the pathologist called it "textbook strangulation" and the prosecutor charged the husband. Turns out it wasn't at all strangulation, never mind textbook, and the prosecutor was found to have coached the shit out of the incompetent lying pathologist.

The prosecutor was suspended from practicing law for 4 years. The pathologist just moved on to a new state where he continued to fuck the dog in the worst way possible.
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Old 02-02-2011, 08:53 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

This local case, neighbors heard the gunshot, then saw the guy's county issued truck leaving the street and found her in the driveway. As far as I know they never did determine whether it was self inflicted or not (though I assume there are multiple ways to do so), so the guy walked.
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:04 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

I'm gobsmacked. This is not how NCIS does it.

I had always just assumed that coroner's were all forensic pathologists, highly trained and highly skilled.

I really am gobsmacked! What century is this?
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:08 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

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Originally Posted by Gonzo View Post
Here's a clip. He had some other guests that week covering the same topic who were also falsely imprisoned. In some cases I am sure it would be do to faulty standards, righ? Wouldn't there have to be in most cases of false conviction? Excuse me if I am missing the mark.
There are lots of reasons someone could be falsely convicted of murder, like police planting evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, or faulty eye witness testimony. Not that shitty pathologists weren't involved in those cases, mind you; they could very well have been. It's just not a given in every wrongful conviction that the medical examiner screwed up.
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:17 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Each Colorado county elects its own coroner. Just before the last election some of us Democrats were talking about whether there were ANY Republicans worthy of serious consideration this time around. We couldn't come up with any in our county, but there was general agreement that the Republican running for coroner in an adjoining county was a better choice than the Dem because, whatever else you might say about him, the Republican was actually a doctor.

I was a little flabbergasted that a non-M.D. could be a coroner, but it's true. It's all true:

Quote:
(1) A person is eligible to hold the office of coroner if the person:

(a) Is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the state of Colorado and of the county in which the person will hold the office of coroner;

(b) Has earned a high school diploma or its equivalent or a college degree; and

(c) Has given a set of fingerprints in accordance with subsection (2) of this section.
C.R.S. § 30-10-601.5(1).

That's it. That's the be-all and end-all of the eligibility requirements. Even those didn't exist before 2003. In 1994 the state supreme court ruled that the legislature lacked constitutional authority to prescribe any standards of any kind for coroners. It took a constitutional amendment in 2002 to get even those requirements passed.

As a general rule, coroners have to complete a 40-hour "training course for new coroners" within one year of election, plus 16 hours of "in service" training per year, but even those requirements can be waived. See id. § 30-10-601.8. I'm sure that training is a fully adequate substitute for an M.D. and a board certification in forensic pathology. :jerkoff:
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:19 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Carter View Post
In New Mexico, all autopsies are performed at the Office of the Medical Investigator located in Albequerque. In every case of sudden or unexplained death, a Field Deputy Medical Investigator is dispatched to the scene. What is appalling to me is the requirements to be one of these investigators:

Quote:
Under indirect supervision, on an on-call basis, responds to and participates in the on-scene investigation of unnatural and/or unattended deaths, and prepares reports for the Office of the Medical Investigator as required. Remains available to respond to reportable deaths on a 24-hour basis, as per call schedule.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

1. Travels to the scene of homicides, suicides, accidental, questionable, and/or unattended deaths as required, on behalf of the Office of the Medical Investigator, in accordance with established call schedule.
2. Takes custody of remains in accordance with prescribed protocol and procedure; performs initial on-scene examination of remains; takes photographs and collects information relevant or related to cause and manner of death.
3. Conducts joint investigations of cause of death in association with law enforcement officials attending the scene.
4. Occasionally conducts external examination of bodies and collects bodily fluids, as may be required in individual cases.
5. Collects data and prepares reports on death investigations to the central office, in accordance with pre-established policy and procedure, ensuring accuracy and completeness of information.
6. Conducts followup investigations as required.
7. Occasionally attends and provides evidence/testimony as required at pre-trial and/or court hearings, as may be required in individual cases.
8. Practices appropriate safety, environmental, and/or infection control methods.
9. Performs miscellaneous job-related duties as assigned.

MINIMUM JOB REQUIREMENTS:

High school diploma or GED with no previous work experience required.
These people are paid something on the order of $75 per call.
I think this is how it is done in Georgia for the most part. My brother looked into becoming whatever they call them for their county because he is always looking for extra money, and as a first responder goes to many of those kinds of calls (for free as a volunteer) anyway. I think there is a test you have to take, probably about the regs, and he hasn't had time to take it yet.
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:32 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Being trained in pathology is no guarantee, of course. As this unbelievable dipshit demonstrates.
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:37 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

I don't understand why states haven't changed their methods. I assume they just leave it all up the police, but as TV has demonstrated, forensics excellence is what solves crimes!

Srsly, as important as this kind of information is to LE, to families, to health authorities, you'd think they'd up the qualifications requirement.
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:47 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Carter View Post
In New Mexico, all autopsies are performed at the Office of the Medical Investigator located in Albequerque. In every case of sudden or unexplained death, a Field Deputy Medical Investigator is dispatched to the scene. What is appalling to me is the requirements to be one of these investigators:

{snip horrors}

These people are paid something on the order of $75 per call.
Unbelievable. They might as well just flag down a cab to cart the body into town.
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:52 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

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Originally Posted by Clutch Munny View Post
Being trained in pathology is no guarantee, of course. As this unbelievable dipshit demonstrates.
Oh, my god. :(

Quote:
Sherret was jailed on the basis of Smith's opinion that her four-month-old son Joshua had a skull fracture, and that he had been smothered. She was released on bail in 1996 and remained on bail until the conviction. Sherret's sentence was 1 year in jail and 2 years probation. Sherret served eight months in total, and was entered into the child abuse registry. Her older child was removed by Children's Aid, and in order to get him out of foster care, she agreed to give him up for adoption and have no physical contact with him until he was 18. Later exhumation of the child and examination of the skull have shown that there was no skull fracture. It is thought Dr. Smith confused the normal gap between the baby's skull plates for an injury. On Dec. 7, 2009, the Ontario Court of Appeal exonerated Sherret, stating that it was "profoundly regrettable that due to flaws in pathological evidence" she was wrongfully convicted.
And that's just one of his many stories.

:sadcheer:

I wonder if he ever felt any remorse at destroying these people's lives through his professional arrogance (which obviously far outweighed his professional ethics and proficiency).
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:55 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

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Originally Posted by LadyShea View Post
I don't understand why states haven't changed their methods. I assume they just leave it all up the police, but as TV has demonstrated, forensics excellence is what solves crimes!

Srsly, as important as this kind of information is to LE, to families, to health authorities, you'd think they'd up the qualifications requirement.
I guess the dead can't vote. :shrug:

Electing coroners does not sit easy with me at all. These are people who should be highly trained and skilled in a variety of disciplines, most especially the medical sciences, and should be appointed by a non-partisan body based on their competence, not their popularity or political ideology.
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Old 02-02-2011, 09:56 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by livius drusus View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea View Post
Quote:
murderers get off scott free because the medical examiner couldn't tell the difference between an accidental fall and a fatal beating.
From what I read of the trial, there was never a conclusive medical determination of whether a local woman committed suicide or was murdered, though they tried her boyfriend for murder. They used the possibility of suicide as the defense and the guy got off.
I wasn't actually referring to that case, but to the NOLA case of a man who had killed a cop and was found dead the next day, beaten to a pulp. The coroner said it was an accidental fall.
I'm sure you probably realize this, but that sounds less like couldn't tell the difference and wouldn't tell the difference. Cui bono?

Some other notes...

As in most aspects of our legal system, how much justice one gets is based on how much money one has or who one knows. Remember the uproar about Michael Jordan's father? They didn't know who he was and treated him as just another black corpse. Oops.

Some localities have both a coroner (probably inept elected official) and a medical examiner (career pathologist) in order to not eliminate an elected official and yet not require them to be competent.

I believe the book Stiff by Mary Roach goes in to the autopsy stuff in some of its chapters. An interesting read in all.
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  #24  
Old 02-02-2011, 09:58 PM
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John Carter John Carter is offline
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

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Originally Posted by Clutch Munny View Post
Being trained in pathology is no guarantee, of course. As this unbelievable dipshit demonstrates.
Wow, that is frightening. Especially the case where he claimed the child had a skull fracture. The fissures between the various bones in the skull are easily seen well into adulthood; in a child (much less a baby) they are huge. Its really hard to imagine someone with any training at all could be so incompetent as to mistake them for fractures.
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Last edited by John Carter; 02-02-2011 at 10:11 PM. Reason: clarity
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  #25  
Old 02-02-2011, 10:00 PM
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Default Re: There Are No Standards or Oversight for Pathologists in the US

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Originally Posted by Ymir's blood
I'm sure you probably realize this, but that sounds less like couldn't tell the difference and wouldn't tell the difference. Cui bono?

Some other notes...

As in most aspects of our legal system, how much justice one gets is based on how much money one has or who one knows. Remember the uproar about Michael Jordan's father? They didn't know who he was and treated him as just another black corpse. Oops.

Some localities have both a coroner (probably inept elected official) and a medical examiner (career pathologist) in order to not eliminate an elected official and yet not require them to be competent.

I believe the book Stiff by Mary Roach goes in to the autopsy stuff in some of its chapters. An interesting read in all.
They talked about Michael Jordan's father in the Frontline episode. The NOLA coroner is an OB/Gyn. He supervises a staff of medical examiners who do all the work, but he's the only one who gets to make the final calls. And yeah, like you said, cui bono is right. Cops somehow never seem to do no wrong in his parish, and NOPD is one of the most appallingly corrupt police departments in the country. They ran a murder for hire operation in the 90s, for Chrissakes.
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