Records detail coroner’s controversy timeline

By From page A1 | March 05, 2014

VALLEJO — Defense attorneys trying to get the murder case thrown out for a Vallejo man because of controversy within the Solano County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office spelled out additional reasons Monday why they believe prosecutors and local law enforcement are guilty of deliberately hiding evidence.

Judge Daniel J. Healy is expected to rule on the request to dismiss the case at a Thursday hearing.

The controversy began as early 2009 shortly after Dr. Susan Hogan started doing almost all autopsies in Solano County. Prosecutor Terry Ray complained in 2011 about Hogan’s autopsy in a shaken-baby death case, saying Hogan’s procedures forced her to make a plea deal in a murder case.

It was an email to Ray from Hogan sent in February 2013 that brought to a head simmering concerns about Hogan’s performance and credibility. The email was about Hogan’s autopsy on 13-year-old Genelle R. Conway-Allen. Hogan told Ray in the email, “just between you and me,” before sharing with Ray her opinion that the girl may have died accidentally during consensual sex.

Anthony L. Jones, the suspect in Conway-Allen’s killing, faces rape and murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Sheriff Thomas Ferrera and District Attorney Don du Bain in March 2013 participated in a meeting with prosecutors that was part of an internal affairs investigation launched into Hogan that boiled down to concerns about five autopsies, according to court records.

Du Bain has declined to talk about the Hogan controversy.

One of those autopsies was for a woman who died from suffocation in a Vallejo motel room. Police believe she was suffocated by her boyfriend, Michael Daniels. His attorneys say the death was accidental and that Hogan could not reasonably rule it a homicide and had not initially deemed it a homicide, but changed her view after being pressured by Vallejo police and the prosecutor in Daniels’ case.

During the spring and summer of 2013, at least five prosecutors in du Bain’s office were questioned about Hogan or attended meetings in which she was the topic of discussion.

Correspondence from top Sheriff’s Office staff to Hogan culminated with an 86-page report and her being informed she was being fired as of Oct. 7, 2013. She was given the choice of resigning and was placed on administrative leave and was ordered not to be at the coroner’s office or Sheriff’s Office without an escort, according to court records.

Several weeks later, on Nov. 26, 2013, Hogan took the witness stand at Daniels’ probable cause hearing. The prosecutor in the case knew about the concerns with Hogan but Daniels’ defense attorneys knew nothing about what had unfolded in recent months. Defense attorneys did not know, as they do now, that in August 2012 Hogan refused to call the Vallejo death a homicide and that in 2013 a coroner’s investigator told his boss that he also could not call it a homicide.

Hogan testified during the probable cause hearing that the 2012 Vallejo hotel death could “represent” a homicide and was “most probably a homicide.” Hogan also testified she would be retiring in the upcoming days and that she knew nothing about any investigation.

Sheriff’s officials have said Hogan retired in December 2013.

Hogan said in an email to a prosecutor in January that she was “fired out of the blue for no reason” and was “escorted from the building by two huge sheriff’s deputies.”

Daniels’ jury trial on a murder charge is set to start March 10.

Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.

Jess Sullivan

Jess has covered the criminal justice system in Solano County for several years. He was an embedded reporter in Iraq in 2003.

Discussion | 18 comments

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  • The MisterMarch 05, 2014 - 6:32 am

    Cover up and finger pointing. And the risk that the innocent go to jail and the guilty walk free. Time to clean house, Solano.

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  • paqkleaderMarch 05, 2014 - 11:20 am


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  • Rich GiddensMarch 05, 2014 - 7:26 am

    So the DA and the Sheriff coached Dr. Hogan's testimony and ordered her to change her findings in the Daniels case. That's a CRIME. It's called ''obstruction of justice'' and ''civil rights violations'' for starts. I bet Dan Healy is meeting ex parte with the DA, Sheriff and other Judges concerning these matters and that's illegal too! Thank you Mr. Sullivan for exposing their illegal activities.

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  • George Guynn, JrMarch 05, 2014 - 3:58 pm

    Thanks Mr. Sullivan for shining a light on these improper activities. Let's hope we get a house cleaning of the guilty, not the innocent, this time!

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  • Curious ObserverMarch 05, 2014 - 10:09 pm

    It is interesting how people read the same story and can come to completely different conclusions. Of course, in my opinion, it really doesn’t help the way Jeff Sullivan has written the story. As I have read in this newspaper and in others, it was the District Attorney’s Office that brought the matter to Sheriff Ferrara’s attention. So as Mr. Sullivan writes that the controversy started as far back as 2009, there seems to be no information that supports the Sheriff’s Office knew about this issue until the DA presented his concerns. Indeed, the 2009 case appears only one case of several that the DA’s Office presented to the Sheriff with their concerns. It would be logical to surmise that the concern of the DA’s Office was based on several cases, which based on a single event might not be significant, but cumulatively might be an issue. So therefore, wouldn’t it be reasonable to for the District Attorney to raise his concerns to the Sheriff? It seems this is supported by Jeff Sullivan reporting that the DA and the Sheriff met in March of 2013 and that meeting was regarding the concerns of 5 autopsies. There doesn’t seem to be anything nefarious about this meeting, at least to me. If there was an issue between departments shouldn’t the department head be made aware of it. Isn’t that what occurred? And, it appears that when the Sheriff was made aware of this, he launched an investigation to verify whether these concerns were valid. As Jeff Sullivan writes, during the spring and summer of 2013, at least 5 prosecutors were questioned regarding Susan Hogan. I can only assume that this was a result of the investigation the Sheriff ordered, and nothing else. People are throwing out the phrase “cover up”. To those; please present accurate information that supports your claim. It seems to me the Sheriff, by virtue of him conducting the investigation, is the one supplying the information to the courts, that you are so eagerly indicating he is trying to cover up. I would think if this was a cover up, a documented investigation never would have taken place, or, the investigation that was conducted would have mysteriously disappeared. Sullivan writes that the defense in the Daniel’s probable cause hearing, “did not know, as they do now, that in August 2012 Hogan refused to call the Vallejo death a homicide and that in 2013 a coroner’s investigator told his boss that he also could not call it a homicide.” Doesn’t the pathologist and the Coroner’s Office have to write a report on the death and wouldn’t Hogan’s initial findings have been documented in the report? So how couldn’t the defense already know this information? As to Hogan testifying in the probable cause hearing that the death “could represent a homicide”, instead of supposition, please supply accurate information on the claims that the DA and the Sheriff coached Hogan and ordered her to change her testimony. As a pathologist, doesn’t Hogan have to testify and provide an opinion that is supported by scientific evidence? Is it possible that Hogan, on her own, re-evaluated the evidence and formed another opinion without anyone else knowing. For if people are to argue to the one extreme that this was a coerced testimony, should we not equally accept the argument that it is not. Again I ask, please present the evidence that the DA and Sheriff coerced Hogan to change her testimony. Again I say, without this matter being brought to the attention of the Sheriff by the DA, and the Sheriff initiating an investigation into this matter, none of this information would have come to light. Maybe we should praise our officials for having the courage to address these reported wrongs and make corrections so this does not occur again in the future.

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  • oboogie2March 07, 2014 - 11:18 am

    @Curious Observer, the "nefariousness" is that the DA apparently did not share this information with the defense, in itself a Brady violation. As to your question of wouldn't the defense automatically have any initial report from the coroner; in a word, no.

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  • Please...March 09, 2014 - 2:23 pm

    Curious Observer is the only one with a comment that has a cogent argument. @oboogie2, what makes you think the DA is privy to what is in Hogan's file? Which entity is responsible for looking into Hogan's personnel file and makes the judgment as to whether or not it's a Brady violation? Oh wait, I have the answer for you! It's the County Cousel's office that determines and tells the Sheriff and the DA if there is anything to be concerned about. If you're looking for the big "fail" , it lies with the County Counsel. I know county government is convoluted but I try to keep up. As for Dan Healy, he is on a one man mission to protect defendants, not victims or the people of the state of California. It's an abomination that he is front and center with the Public Defenders office protecting the accused! Truly disgusted.

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  • oboogie2March 09, 2014 - 4:42 pm

    Your comment about county counsel is wrong and displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. See Penal Code sec. 1054, et. seq.

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  • General Fadi BasemMarch 09, 2014 - 4:42 pm

    Please--The County Counsel is not the one conducting a criminal prosecution. The District Attorney's office is. That is where any Brady responsibilities lie.

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  • Please...March 10, 2014 - 9:43 am

    I understand the DA is responsible for Brady and i will pose thees questions. Does this mean the DA has access or can rummage through personnel files of law enforcement employees or is there another entity responsible for alerting the DA? If so, then who? It seems to me if you are going to hold the DA responsible and punishable then he should have access to the files but there is one little problem, there are also privacy acts and laws that preclude him from digging into law enforcement personnel files. It seems obvious to me that penal code 1054 and privacy laws are incongruent and tie the hands of the responsible party. It's not fair. So, AGAIN, I ask, WHO has the access to the files and makes the judgment that there might be a Brady issue and alerts the DA???

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  • Please...March 10, 2014 - 9:45 am


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  • oboogie2March 10, 2014 - 8:53 pm

    The standard under Brady and the Cal. Constitution is any information no matter how kept that goes to information that may adversely reflecting on honesty of the DA's witnesses, in state agencies' possession- whether or not the DA possess it personally- that they know of, or should know of. See: Cal. Const. art. I, sec. 28(d); People v. Wheeler (1992) 4 Cal.4th 284; People v. Lang (1989) 49 Cal.3d 991; People v. Harris (1989) 47 Cal.3d 1047; Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83; People v. Nation (1980) 26 Cal.3d 169; People v. Rutherford (1975) 14 Cal.3d 399; In re Ferguson (1971) 5 Cal.3d 525; People v. Boyd (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 541; Penal Code section 1054. Does that explain enough? Also, if the Sheriff's had enough serious doubt as to the Coroner that they were investigating, then trust me, the DA knew about it. To not inform would so poison the well between the Sheriff and DA, and put the Sheriff at liability, that the Sheriff wouldn't do it.

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  • HmmMarch 10, 2014 - 9:28 pm

    So the DA does rely on the law enforcement agency/Sheriff to report there is a problem. Well, in that case, it is doing a lot of assuming to "know" the Sheriff wouldn have alerted the DA. I prefer not to assume. I prefer to wait to hear the response to the allegation from the Sheriff and DA. The sheriff may well not have thought it was something to jump right on. Maybe he didn't think the alleged Brady issue rose to the level of reporting. Geez, there are multiple reasons I can speculate on. Oboogie2, you sound like you may be a lawyer, I don't know, but you have quick access to penal codes. With that I say, if you are a lawyer, you should know better than to make snap judgements without all evidence presented. Seems like people should have a little more patience and wait to make judgments until AFTER ALL evidence has been submitted.

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  • oboogie2March 10, 2014 - 10:15 pm

    You missed the part of the standard where I said,"whether or not the DA possess it personally- that they know of, or should know of." It doesn't matter, they are deemed to be in constructive possession of the info if not in actual possession. Ergo, they have an affirmative obligation and, thus, that is where liability lays. Now, it is an everyday occurrence that they don't meet this obligation intentionally, and that is what lawyers battle over every day; but that is the legal obligation and they are well aware of it.

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  • HmmMarch 10, 2014 - 10:28 pm

    No, I did not miss it. That's why I said I love how the DA is suppose to be Carnac.

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  • HmmMarch 10, 2014 - 9:49 pm

    Also, I love how the DA is suppose be Carnac. Laughable.

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  • RobertMarch 13, 2014 - 6:39 pm

    The only reason the "Sheriff" has done anything so far, is to assure his re-election, and you leave me with the impression that you spent an entire day trying to save your own job by posting this pass the buck excuse. I hope that this wasn't done on tax payer's time. The bottom line is, "dishonesty is dishonesty!"

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  • RobertMarch 13, 2014 - 7:42 pm

    Who paid you off???

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