Sheriff takes stand as Solano autopsies hearing begins

By From page A1 | March 12, 2014

VALLEJO — Nearly two months after the controversy about the Solano County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office surfaced, top officials in that office and the District Attorney’s Office took the witness stand Tuesday to answer questions about events that could affect dozens of murder cases.

Defense attorneys for Michael Daniels are seeking to have a murder charge he faces thrown out, claiming prosecutors engaged in “outrageous conduct” by hiding evidence about a secret investigation and firing of Dr. Susan Hogan, who performed scores of homicide autopsies in Solano County between 2008 and 2013.

The chain of events that spurred the investigation began with District Attorney Donald A. du Bain asking Sheriff Thomas Ferrara to come over to his office for a meeting about recent complaints du Bain had received from his prosecutors about the autopsies done by Hogan, according to Ferrara, who was the first witness at the hearing ordered by Judge Daniel Healy.

Ferrara, two months into his new job at the time, met at du Bain’s office with du Bain’s and his three chief deputies in February 2013. The prosecutors complained about four autopsies, all four with findings by Hogan that weakened pending murder cases.

Du Bain has declined to talk about the Hogan controversy.

After du Bain’s meeting, Ferrara launched the secret investigation that led to Hogan’s firing eight months later, in October 2013.

In spite of concerns serious enough to warrant the investigation, Hogan kept conducting autopsies and defense attorneys in dozens of homicide cases remained unaware that there were major problems in the coroner’s office.

Instead of having a third-party attorney conduct the investigation, a choice Healy has repeatedly pointed out would have led the investigation and more than 1,000 pages of documents to be deemed confidential because of attorney-client privilege, Ferrara made a different decision.

Ferrara hired a longtime comrade, a recently retired captain from the office, Ken Elliott, whose investigation revolved largely around the four detrimental autopsies. Elliott never talked with Hogan – not about the four autopsies or any of the 151 other homicide autopsies or the other roughly 1,300 autopsies she conducted.

The investigation ended in July 2013.

Ferrara’s second-in-command, Undersheriff Gary T. Elliot Jr. testified that on Oct. 7, 2013, he handed Hogan two letters he had written. The first letter said her services were no longer needed, that she was being fired, her firing was not subject to appeal and that she was about to be escorted out of the building. The second letter said she was being allowed to resign on Nov. 30 but that she was still being escorted out of the building immediately.

He let her choose which letter she wanted. A week later, she was briefly allowed back into the Sheriff’s Office under escort to retrieve her personal things.

Hogan also took the witness stand Tuesday.

Much of her testimony focused on a Jan. 10, 2013, meeting – a few weeks before du Bain’s meeting with Ferrara. The meeting included the three top prosecutors and two Vallejo police officers and revolved around the death of Jessica Brastow, a woman police found dead in a Vallejo motel five months earlier.

Michael Daniels, the man set to start a murder trial next week for Brastow’s death, sat quietly throughout the day’s testimony.

Hogan testified that during the meeting, one of the officers was “very angry” about her not ruling the death a homicide and one of the prosecutors kept glaring at her. She has credited that prosecutor with fueling her firing.

Defense attorneys for Daniels believe Hogan was strong-armed into changing her cause of death in Daniels’ case. At a 2013 probable cause hearing for Daniels, she testified the cause of death was “probably” homicide. She also testified that she had not been fired and was going to be retiring in December 2013.

Hogan testified Tuesday that autopsy reports could take months because of a lack of staff support for transcribing and that a training program launched by her superiors was troubling because it meant “having a bunch of 18-year-olds in the morgue during homicide autopsies.” Hogan also said her autopsy reports always included pages of handwritten diagrams.

That was news to several defense attorneys at the hearing, who said they have never been provided copies of diagrams in their homicide cases.

One of the final witnesses to testify Tuesday was Chief Deputy District Attorney Terry Ray. It was an email to Ray from Hogan sent in February 2013 that brought to a head the 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.

Ray answered several questions about why it took her more than seven months to share the email with defense attorneys and why she never talked to other prosecutors in her office about the Hogan investigation. She explained she had been ordered by a superior to keep word of the investigation confidential. Ray said she only learned a few days ago about du Bain’s meeting with Ferrara, which spurred the Hogan investigation.

Another of du Bain’s chief deputies and one or two top prosecutors are expected to take the witness stand when the hearing resumes Wednesday.

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 | 36 comments

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  • rainMarch 12, 2014 - 12:38 am

    This is painful to watch. Unwatchable, even. Get rid of corruption, as voters, or get used to it.

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  • SakrootsMarch 12, 2014 - 1:35 am

    Rain, I couldn't agree with you more. Let's all come together by contacting the Voter Registrar's Office and requesting that they reverse their decision and allow Toler on the ballot. After all, look at what 100 years of business as usual has gotten us, this is serious. Give Toler a chance if he can't do the job, then vote him out at the end of his term. It's Time for a Change

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 1:50 am

    After reading the most recent article about the Sheriff and some of his people I have only one thing to say, "Bullies" and nothing less. I can certainly understand Toler's frustration with these guys. He was bullied by them as well. I am wondering how widespread this type of conduct may actually be. What other types of charges may have been acted upon with less than honesty in mind. I have to agree with Sakroots, maybe somebody like Toler will go in there and give it a 100 year spring cleaning!

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  • The MisterMarch 12, 2014 - 7:06 am

    Yes, Toler was victimized by this systematic reign of corruption. And so have been the people of Solano County. And don't think for one minute that this corruption doesn't extend over to the County Registrars office too... because for a fact, it does. If it comes to it, I'll write Toler's name on the ballot. As it stands now, the corruption runs unopposed on the ballot. Is that what you want?

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  • Trinity ScarletteMarch 12, 2014 - 3:34 am

    I consider myself a text book "Fairfield-ian" . Born and raised, attended school, played Rec sports, and even lent my hands at a fair share of community events as a proud volunteer. And now I find myself ashamed to be a part of this city. Our protectors and guardians being lead by the finest of corrupt, greedy, swindlers who have abused the power we as citizens have offered in trust. We can't even trust our medical examiner to give us unbiased honest answers to the death of our family members or friends, because of her superiors feeding her there own personally preferred endings to unsolved cases. I hope other members of my community see this, and wonder like myself how many innocent people have been accused, wronged, or forced to lie. I want to be proud of my city again. We don't deserve to be lied to by our law enforcement leaders. Toler has my vote the second his names back on the ballot. It's time to clean house. Our community deserves nothing but the finest leadership, and that does not include manipulative self centered politicians such as the ones seen in the above article.

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  • Morning JoeMarch 12, 2014 - 4:20 am

    Wow. Great coverage and reporting. Diversions from every possible angle- revolved around the S.O.L And No Options. Find your new scapegoat and stop playing chess with home-grown locals. The inner emo-turmoil drama conducted around here is ruining and taking lives, causing more mental illness then we can cope with. ONE DAY OUR FIELD WILL BE FAIR. Keep the dream alive fellow Flatlander before your labeled the emoitional domestic terriorist that you really are!!

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 5:26 am

    Joe thanks, we all now have a better understanding of how mental illness affect some of us. Thanks

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  • BobMarch 12, 2014 - 6:38 am

    Do a background search on Toler, he has had federal charges for automatic weapons (full on machine gun) that's why he can't run for office He's had no experiance at law enforcement which is required, no matter what he did in AZ

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  • The MisterMarch 12, 2014 - 7:02 am

    Bob... I can just about imagine why your eyes are brown...

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  • Blanca BotwinMarch 12, 2014 - 7:44 am

    Bob, LMAO. You don't think any of those "federal charges" stemmed from issues he has with the SO in this county? They want his a$$! He's a thorn in the county' paw. They had to pay him money that they could have used to pay more criminals "Witness Protection Funds", like they did in Matt Garcia's case.

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  • Blanca BotwinMarch 12, 2014 - 7:47 am

    I used to hear of people complaining that their defense attorney's weren't being given all of their paperwork, and honestly, I didn't believe the people. I thought, "they're criminals, the truth is not in them, the DA's office is on the right side of the law. They're not going to play games and not turn over paperwork." I do not have a problem admitting I was extremely wrong. I couldn't have been more wrong.The DA's office is so dirty, just thinking about them makes me feel like I need a shower. Real criminals are being set free because of their ineptness, and on the other hand, innocent people might be convicted, due to the underhandedness and dishonesty running rampant there.I'm still Team Toler. Hopefully one day, Toler will get the full respect he deserves, when more and more people realize he isn't what he was portrayed to be.

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 8:12 am

    Bob is this the best you can do? I haven't heard you say anything about Toler being convicted. Gee, I wonder what agency filed the initial charges......... Nice try!

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 8:14 am

    Also Bob, it's New Mexico not Arizona. Seems like you need to do your own search on line before passing on incorrect info!

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  • KA4DAMarch 12, 2014 - 8:54 am

    why no comment from DuBain? Why is he remaining silent? Terry Ray is a chief deputy and said she was told to keep quiet by a superior. She only has one superior and that's dubain. Were stuck with Ferrera since he's running unopposed. Dubain however has an opponent. Krisha Abrams for DA!!!!

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 9:09 am

    Just thought about something! I just looked up "Team Ferrara" campaign site. He has quite a few well known endorsees, from Politicians to Business people. I wonder what they are thinking about him now??????

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  • Rich GiddensMarch 12, 2014 - 11:15 am

    Suborning perjury and coaching witness testimony? Withholding exculpatory Brady evidence? Why aren't these corrupt officials being charged with crimes?---like ''obstruction of justice'' and ''suborning perjury'' ''witness tampering'' and perjury! Reason? They and State Government Officials and Politicians are all good friends!

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  • Spare meMarch 12, 2014 - 11:19 am

    I can't wait for the truth to come out. All of you haters are going to be recognized for what you are. @KA4DA, when the truth comes out, you'll find that KA is a user. She is using you and you know it because you've been told by people who have seen her duplicity in full blown motion.

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  • The ChiefMarch 12, 2014 - 12:40 pm

    When all is said and done, and Hollywood comes a knockin' - and you know it will - Krishna Abrams will be played by Amy Adams, Don DuBain by Gene Hackman, and our esteemed "Sheriff", by Billy Barty.

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  • I know All of the characters well!March 13, 2014 - 11:31 am

    The chief, that's pretty funny. However, I don't think Amy Adams is the right actress. She's far too sweet. I'm thinking Minnie Driver or at least someone who can pull off a shrewish character for Abrams. Ed Harris for Dubain and I'll give you Barty for Ferrara.

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  • I know All of the characters well!March 13, 2014 - 11:55 am

    Oh! And Judge Dan Healy should be played by left wing zealot Joy Behar! Hahaha!

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  • lived in itMarch 12, 2014 - 2:00 pm

    i love u guys;)

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  • Sally Elizabeth TanterMarch 12, 2014 - 4:16 pm

    I find it hysterical that people can read this article and ignore the blatant facts. ALL THE PEOPLE WE SHOULD WE ABLE TO TRUST ARE LYING. That's what concerns me most. And it's funny that as soon as "unopposed" Tom Ferrera has an experienced law enforcement officer add his name in the running against him suddenly there are rules broken? Btw none of which make any sense to me. Regardless of where he served, he did a duty. He protected his community. And I'm all about actions over talk. And all Ferrera has done in his time is talk circles to get what and where he wants. If he's so confident that he's the better choice for sheriff (Ferrera) and his "supporters" agree, why is their someone in the DAs office that feels the need to boot his only opposing competition from the ballot? It seems like the politicians leading our sheriff office have spent more time investing in rooting their friends into position to try and guarantee their free ride than actually doing their job the honest and right way. I'm ready for some fresh air in the Solano county administration.

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 4:44 pm

    I took the initiative and contacted several other counties throughout our region. When I listed Toler's qualifications and requested their response pertaining to his eligibility for Sheriff, all but one(did not know the answer) said, that he qualified. But of course once I asked to have something sent to me in writing all I got were excuses why they couldn't. If you don't believe me, do some calling yourselves!

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 5:04 pm

    Sally, I know this guy who quit his job as a Deputy back in 2012 because he was being harassed for reporting an incident. He was just short of his retirement age but the stress of the environment he worked in took a heavy toll on his health. This guy substantiates many of the things that are posted on this site. I will tell you this, he is not a liar. This guy tells it like it is and backs up everything , something that does not fly very well at the Sheriff's Dept. Anyway, he has told me many times, that majority of the men and women that work at the Sheriff's Dept. are upstanding and honest people. so, it's important that the focus be kept on the individuals responsible for this mess.

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  • MikeMarch 12, 2014 - 7:18 pm

    Robert, please contact me about the deputy who left. I am currently writing a book.

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  • RobertMarch 12, 2014 - 7:38 pm

    Mike, how should I contact you?

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  • LeonardMarch 13, 2014 - 6:52 am

    Robert you are a great friend, but I can answer my own questions it's not fair for you to be placed in this position. Not to mention, now you can stop popping your head in and out of my house to ask me questions...LOL..

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  • Trinity ScarletteMarch 12, 2014 - 10:50 pm

    Robert, It seems like the man that your talking about, one who knew the office for what it was as a whole, should be the type of person we intrust with leadership. It's frankly just saddens me that people who lie, steal, and cheat their way to the top of the food chain get away with it and men like who you speak of are forced out and bullied to the point of extreme mental and physical pain. I would truly love to meet this man. If you could perhaps maybe it would be the best for the entire city of Fairfield to hear this mans story and what he know and has to say about his time spent. With all the truths we see surfacing now I bet he would have even more to contribute. Maybe he can fill in the blanks that the politicians in office are forcing others to keep silent about.

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  • LeonardMarch 13, 2014 - 6:42 am

    Trinity my name is Leonard, and yes I worked at the Sheriff's Office from January 19, 1992, until I told those less than honest people at the Sheriff's Administration to pound sand when I "QUIT" on September 11, 2012. My last words were these to my former Lt. " I get up in the mornings and I look in the mirror and ask myself... Who am I? The answer is simple. Before anything, I am a Marine, I believe in honesty, courage, integrity, commitment and compassion for humanity. To protect the meek and the weak and to uphold the laws of our country. Unfortunately that is something that you guys will never comprehend." These were my last words, if anyone else wants to dispute it... I don't back down from what I believe is right!

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  • Trinity ScarletteMarch 13, 2014 - 8:49 am

    Leonard, First off thank you for your service. I am also so glad to see you on these comments. I am very curious what kind of information you have on the workings of the sheriff's office. How long were you in Solano before you left of the sheriffs office? From what you've mentioned it seems like you are a man with quite a bit of life experience and knowledge. I'm assuming none of the surfacing details pertaining to the dirty work going on are much of a surprise to you. What are the chances you'd be willing to share other experiences you had at the department with me or any other voters? I would truly love to meet you and get your first hand of the behind of scenes of what's going on over there.

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  • LeonardMarch 13, 2014 - 9:13 am

    There in not a thing that these people do that would ever surprise me. Just read about what's happening for yourselves. The only reason this scandal has surfaced is due to a miscalculation in their planning because of their arrogance. As for Dr. Hogan, I would hold back on any personal attacks until the whole story comes out. Lastly, let me think about your request for a Q & A session. I would love to do it, but I have a family to think about. I will get back to you. P.S. The only thing that has surprised me is the lack of personal attacks against my character for my recent posting. Stay tuned, I am sure they are coming!

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  • DeniseMarch 14, 2014 - 6:08 pm

    Leonard, you have our support and also from many other people out here "SEMPER FI" Jarhead!

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  • Michael S.March 14, 2014 - 6:11 am

    I wonder what other lies our "protegious" politicians have fed us. I can't wait for some honesty from someone we can trust. People of such integrity ^^^ seem far and between in Solano county now of days.

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  • Wheresthegoodguy?March 14, 2014 - 6:17 am

    Does anyone else feel like this whole situation reminds them of an old school movie about corrupt cops and lying DA's and rigged political offices? Solano feels much colder and darker now.

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  • "Yoda"March 18, 2014 - 12:27 pm

    I do not understand why members of the Sheriff's Department have not come out in support of Ferrara...Their silence speak a thousand words. I would like to hear from those who still work there or have worked there. They are the ones who can tell us what is going on instead of all the speculative assumption which we are seemingly partaking in our discussions.

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