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Pierce County medical examiner announces retirement as independent investigation ongoing

Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark announced Monday he is retiring.

The county immediately will start recruiting for his replacement, according to a news release about the decision issued by Pierce County.

“Dr. Clark has served in a difficult and demanding role for many years,” Carol Mitchell, senior counsel for Justice Services, said in the statement. “Forensic pathology is a critically important function that almost none of us could perform, and I’m grateful for the decade he has given to the residents of Pierce County.”

The county expects it will take months to fill the position, the news release said, and Clark “will provide project support — including testing and implementing a new forensic data base system designed to improve workflow — to assist with the transition until his retirement at the end of next year.”

Staff will get “onsite management and support” from Mitchell during the transition, the statement said.

An independent investigation into complaints about Clark by employees of his office is ongoing, and “Clark’s retirement announcement does not impact this investigation,” the release said.

Associate medical examiner Megan Quinn filed a whistleblower complaint against Clark earlier this year that accused Clark of mismanaging death investigations. She was put on administrative leave four weeks later.

Quinn also filed a complaint with the Washington Medical Commission.

Investigation by the county and the state Department of Health followed.

County spokeswoman Libby Catalinich said Clark will serve as the medical examiner until his replacement is hired and then will be available as needed.

His official retirement will be December 2020, Catalinich said.

Clark turns 65 this year.

Catalinich said he was in the autopsy suite Monday afternoon and not available for comment.

She said he’s been in the position for almost 10 years and that he had been talking with his staff about his retirement plans for some time.

“He’s been in the field for quite a time,” Catalinich said.

News Tribune salary records list Clark’s total pay for 2018 as $259,901.39.

A report from an outside investigation of a different whistleblower complaint by another employee in 2016 found that “evidence overwhelmingly supports the allegation that Dr. Clark’s actions in the workplace are perceived as arrogantly vindictive, and in some cases deliberately cruel.”

Clark said in a statement at the time that he valued his interactions with the Medical Examiner’s Office team.

The investigation also found that some employees thought Clark prioritized organ donations over death investigations, but that there was no evidence changes Clark made to benefit organ donations had compromised the office’s ability to do its job.

Clark fostered a close relationship between his office the organ-donation group SightLife, which started renting space in the Medical Examiner’s building in 2014 and was allowed to harvest organs in a room in the autopsy suite.

“Right now, this is working very smoothly,” Clark told The News Tribune in 2016. “The quality of our death investigations has not suffered.”

Then-County Executive Pat McCarthy, who appointed Clark, said in a statement at the time that Clark was “rightfully recognized as a trailblazer in organ donation.”

She also said she expected county leaders to treat colleagues with respect and professionalism, and that “Dr. Clark is committed to improving communication with the medical examiner team.”

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Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.
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