Crime

Complaint accuses medical examiner of mismanaging death investigations involving children

Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark releases a bag of unclaimed human remains from a Pierce County Sheriff’s boat into Puget Sound water on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. He now stands accused of mishandling death investigations involving children.
Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark releases a bag of unclaimed human remains from a Pierce County Sheriff’s boat into Puget Sound water on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. He now stands accused of mishandling death investigations involving children. Staff file, 2016

Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark faces a new whistleblower complaint that accuses him of mismanaging death investigations, improperly altering death certificates and downplaying or ignoring signs of possible abuse in a pair of recent deaths involving children.

The complaint, filed Thursday, comes from Dr. Megan Quinn, second in command at the medical examiner’s office.

“Dr. Clark reaches inappropriate conclusions about cause and manner of death through his deliberate disregard of forensic evidence,” Quinn’s complaint states, referring to details of deaths involving a 15-month-old girl and a 12-month-old boy. “(Clark) failed to do the expected and required procedures in an investigation of the unexpected death of a child.”

Quinn’s complaint adds that Clark “discounts and dismisses the well-established opioid crisis in this county. He has stated that it is not our job to deal with the issue, and that the opioid crisis is not real, or the numbers do not support it.”

Clark, appointed to the medical examiner’s office in 2010, did not comment on the allegations Thursday. Pierce County spokeswoman Libby Catalinich said leaders were aware of the complaint, and that Quinn and Clark would work separate shifts while an investigation takes place.

“We are aware of the complaint, are undertaking a thorough investigation and will take appropriate action in response to any findings,” Catalinich said via email. “We are committed to upholding the highest medical and ethical standards in the Medical Examiner’s office.”

Clark was the subject of a previous complaint in 2016, alleging arrogant and vindictive behavior toward employees. It also alleged that his zeal for organ donation compromised office procedures.

That complaint, filed by another employee, led to an investigation that concluded Clark’s behavior did not harm death investigations.

Quinn’s complaint does not touch on the organ-donation issue, but it reiterates allegations regarding Clark’s workplace conduct.

“His bullying behavior continues unchecked,” her complaint states. “The working environment remains toxic.”

News Tribune investigative reporter Sean Robinson won the 2016 Ted Natt First Amendment award for ongoing scrutiny of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s office. Since 2000, he has produced award-winning coverage related to criminal justice, government accountability and public disclosure.
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