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Local opinion columnists

Not a good time to die in Solano

By From page A10 | March 16, 2014

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 [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.

Glen Faison

Glen Faison

Glen Faison joined the Daily Republic as managing editor in September 2009. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley for 20-plus years. His experience includes time as editor of the Golden Eagle, a military paper serving the Lemoore Naval Air Station. He graduated from Fresno State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and bleeds Bulldogs red. He is an avid fan of the NFL's Washington team, and attended the 1988 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings at RFK Stadium. He's a member of the Fairfield-Suisun Twilight Rotary Club and a board member for the Solano County Library Foundation. He married his wife, Jill, in 2005, and has three children: Courtni, Tyler and Hayli.

Discussion | 15 comments

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  • WoodyMarch 16, 2014 - 6:34 am

    Obviously there is a lack of transparency here concerning the Coroners Office and County officials. Does the Grand Jury need to get involved? Or are they too close to the "players" also? Let's get this thing fixed, it's not fair to grieving loved ones or those accused of alleged wrong doings. It surely does nothing for the trust of the County residents.

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  • BaseballmomMarch 16, 2014 - 7:07 am

    The best forensic pathologist this county ever had moved to Wisconsin. He did so, in part, because too often the courts in CA treated the pathologist as the criminal and the perp as an innocent victim.

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  • my2centsMarch 16, 2014 - 8:07 am

    You should watch the WHOLE Frontline feature. Bottom line is, you get what you pay for. But hey, it's great propaganda for DR's political campaigning "news."

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  • The MisterMarch 16, 2014 - 8:51 am

    Glen, you asked, "How did this happen?" Could it be because Solano has had a multi-generational dynasty in the Sheriff's Office leading to a well-worn pattern of corruption, power politics, and good-old-boy county government? The answer is yes! The answer to this problem is to cut off this dynasty in June. I'm voting for Tom Toler because 1) He's not part of the dynasty... in fact, he's been victimized by this dynasty again and again and when a judge finds he has been victimized by County agents, it's always been the Solano taxpayers who were made to pay the fines; 2) Because he's honest and brings integrity to the Sheriff's Office. I know that many, if not most, of those working in the Sheriff's Office now are honest and desperately wish to work in an honest organization. Tom Toler will give them that opportunity. Vote Tom Toler in June... even if you have to write his name on the ballot... vote Tom Toler.

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  • Curious ObserverMarch 17, 2014 - 4:02 pm

    Multi-generational dynasty? Correct me if I am wrong but, with the exception of when a Sheriff is appointed due to a vacancy in the middle of a term, isn’t there an election process that takes place every four years to elect a Sheriff? So this dynasty you speak of sounds to me like the election process taking place. The Sheriff is elected by the people of Solano County, who by the way, seem to be predominantly Democrats and liberal in their views. Hardly a hotbed for what you term power politics and a good-old-boy county government. And by the way, while other Counties were going bankrupt, Solano County remained solvent so they must be doing something right. Please don’t insult the informed voter by inferring the election of the Sheriff is anything other than the democratic process taking place. You also indicate that there is a lack of honesty and integrity, presumably from the administration and the rank and file would desperately want to work for an honest organization espousing that Mr. Toler is the answer. Correct me if I am wrong, again, but wasn’t it the Deputy Sheriff’s Association who took Mr. Toler to court last time around to fight that he was not qualified for the Sheriff’s position? That does not sound like, to me, an endorsement or vote of confidence for Mr. Toler.

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  • RobertMarch 17, 2014 - 6:45 pm

    Because the Sheriff promoted the association president to Sgt.TaTa! They did his dirty work, don't even kid yourself.

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  • robertMarch 17, 2014 - 6:47 pm

    and by the way, I think that the Sheriff's brother-in-law is the reigning association king at this time.

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  • "Yoda"March 17, 2014 - 6:53 pm

    Ah! I see a promotion in the future for [Curious Observer} upon the reelection of Ferrara. The dark side of the force is strong with this one.

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  • Curious ObserverMarch 18, 2014 - 2:27 pm

    To Robert and Yoda, no I do not work for the Sheriff’s Office. I am just trying to be informed on the subject, and offering a counter position to the mostly one sided comments made by a few individuals. So don’t hate, just debate. With that said I do have to apologize to Mister regarding the insulting the informed voter comment. That is my opinion only and I did not wish to represent that as any other informed voter's position. Robert, I am assuming you are responding to the second portion of my comment regarding the Deputy Sheriff’s Association taking Mr. Toler to court last time. Are you indicating that the Sheriff appoints the Deputy Sheriff’s Association President? Having been a member of another labor union, it was always my experience that the association representatives were elected by the members of that organization to represent them (the members), and not appointed by the administration. If you are indicating that is not the case here, then there would indeed some cause for alarm regarding the decision making of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Can you please clarify you point on this. Regarding your second statement about the brother-in-law, I can only assume that the county has a nepotism policy and before any type of appointment would take place, the County’s Personnel Department would examine this issue to make sure there was no conflict of interest. If that is not true, can you please enlighten me?

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  • "Yoda"March 18, 2014 - 5:35 pm

    Curious Observer, your questions are valid and welcomed. The Deputy Sheriff's Association elects it's Board members annually. The issues arise after the fact....when the Sheriff buys the newly elected President's influence with the promise of promotion either during or after the President's term. If you don't believe me, I would encourage you to check for yourself. Secondly, it is true that the President of the association is Tom Ferrara's brother-in-law. Here is more... one of the Internal Affairs Investigator's son also happens to work there as a Lt.. How about that for cover up and not to mention conflict of interest.

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  • RobertMarch 18, 2014 - 5:44 pm

    Curious Observer, I know a Deputy Sheriff who retired two years shy of his retirement after 20 plus years. I don't want to speak for him, but I know that he would be more than happy to have a sit down with you or anyone else and answer all your questions.

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  • Rich GiddensMarch 16, 2014 - 9:26 am

    Sounds to me like the Daily Republic newspaper is serving its big government master again with this ''protect our pals'' editorial. The facts show the DA and the Sheriff suborned perjury and coached D. Hogan's findings and court testimony. That's a crime and a conspiracy. Yet the Daily Republic newspaper is trying to create, set and control false appearances by solely blaming Dr. Hogan for the crimes while ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room---the lies of the sheriff and the DA's thugs.

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  • Long Time Fairfield residentMarch 16, 2014 - 10:01 am

    The bigger story is not simply the questionable findings of our coroner, but the possible collusion between her, the Sherrif's Department, police, and the D.A's office. How many innocents where railroaded into prison? How much will this ultimately cost taxpayers to reimburse the wrongly incarcerated? Keep digging and thank you for covering this story.

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