It’s never really a good time to die, but it’s really not a good time to die in Solano County, especially if the cause and manner of your death is, shall we say, questionable.
That’s my takeaway from the controversy surrounding autopsies conducted the past five years in Solano County by Dr. Susan Hogan.
A (no longer) secret investigation into her work by the Sheriff’s Office is now fodder for defense attorneys in numerous homicide cases – including those of victims Genelle Renee Conway-Allen and Vallejo police officer James Capoot. The situation with Solano County autopsies also prompted the Sheriff’s Office to take a second look at the death of a Vacaville pastor’s wife, now that the pastor faces felony charges related to allegations of arson and fraud.
Prosecutors initially said they were reviewing 37 homicide autopsies as a result. That review now includes all homicide autopsies done by Hogan since 2009.
What’s sad is that this is not a first for Solano County. In fact, it looks more like a long-term pattern in the Sheriff’s Office than anything else.
Autopsies performed by Hogan’s immediate predecessor were called into question after the checkered career path of the pathologist, Dr. Thomas Gill, became widely known after a critical report broadcast by the PBS show “Frontline.”
Gill performed autopsies for the county from 2007 to 2009 while working for Forensic Medical Group in Fairfield. He no longer performs autopsies in Solano County. Published reports indicate that’s also the case in Sonoma County, where a murder case was dropped after Gill’s competence was called into question, and in neighboring Yolo County.
Gill is no longer affiliated with the Fairfield firm. That happened after the company lost the Yolo County work.
District Attorney Donald A. du Bain at one point announced that at least 27 homicide cases involving Gill’s work were subject to review. That review was done by Hogan, who became the county’s chief pathologist in 2009. Hogan found nothing to warrant changes in any of the homicide cases.
Here’s my question: How did this happen? I can see problems arising with a single pathologist – in this case Gill. But once that happens, and the county gets a black eye on national television, I would think that everything that happens next would take place in an environment with the utmost care to ensure that all is done correctly.
Yet, here we are.
At some point, all of Hogan’s autopsies should be reviewed, not just the homicides but all unattended deaths. Gill’s autopsies should also be reviewed – once again. The reviews should be done by an outside source, one with impeccable credentials and no skin in the game of Solano County law and order or politics.
That’s the only way to remove this stain of perceived incompetence. Until then, and please excuse the potential irreverence, I suggest a new bedtime prayer for us all until this situation is finally resolved:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray my autopsy’s out of state.
(Out of county suits me fine,
but that just breaks the simple rhyme.)
Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.