SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) — There are shocking allegations out of San Joaquin County, claiming the sheriffs department changed an autopsy report at the center of a police excessive force case.
The family of the man killed claims the sheriff’s department switched the manner of death from “homicide” to “accident” in that autopsy report, then switched it back when it was caught.
The sheriff’s department denies any wrong-doing.
The attorney that represents the family suing for wrongful death says he has never seen anything like this before, and now he’s turning to the media to show what he says should have been public all along.
“And so this would have just stayed in the system without anybody knowing it and it could have been the perfect cover-up,” attorney Greg Bentley said.
The scrutiny is on a San Joaquin County Sheriff-Coroner report on the body of a man named Abelino Cordova-Cuevas, who died in police custody.
The official report lists the manner of death as an accident.
The doctor that performed that autopsy filled out a cause sheet, circling the manner of death not as an “accident,” but as “homicide.”
A critical distinction.
That pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, is shown in a video deposition, in an exchange with Bentley.
“Do you have an opinion as to the manner of his death,” Bentley asked.
“It’s a homicide,” Omalu said.
“Is there any doubt in your mind that Mr. Cordovas-Cuevas’ death was a homicide,” Bentley asked.
“No,” Omalu said.
Bentley claims the sheriff’s department hid Dr. Omalu’s findings even when he subpoenaed the department for all records.
“It’s shocking because the autopsy report that was provided to us by the department, instead of saying that it was a homicide, they checked off the box completely disregarding Dr. Omalu’s opinion, and said it was an accident,” Bentley said. “What is that an indicator of to you,” CBS13’s Steve Large asked Bentley. “That’s a huge concern,” Bentley said. “On many fronts.”
Omalu’s deposition was in February. In March, the sheriff’s department switched the manner of death for Cordova-Cuevas back to homicide.
A statement by San Joaquin County Deputy Coroner Mike Reynolds reads in part”
“On March 5th, I conducted a follow-up…I had never seen the case synopsis provided to Doctor Omalu prior to that time…I have reclassified the manner of death as ‘homicide.'”
“They never should have done this, but now when we catch them, they change it,” Bentley said.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department declined an on-camera interview for this story. Back in December, Sheriff Steven Moore defended his handling of the department after Omalu resigned citing concerns of abuse of power.
“I was surprised and very shocked at that,” Moore said at the time.
The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office issued a statement reading they have been looking into irregularities in the Sheriff-Coroner’s office since last summer for both open and closed investigations.
There is no timeline on when that investigation will be done.