SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The forensic pathologist hired by the family of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot and killed by police in March, is defending his private autopsy report after the Sacramento County coroner said his findings were erroneous.
Sacramento police released the county’s official autopsy on Tuesday. That autopsy was conducted on March 20.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, a notable pathologist hired by the family’s legal team, held a press conference back in March revealing his findings from an autopsy done a week after the county’s work.
“The first thing running through my mind is how two reports can be so different?” said Betty Williams.
Williams, the president of the Sacramento NAACP chapter, is asking a question so many want to know. How can two autopsy reports be so different?
“The reason you’re having discrepancies is because you have six different pathologists — the county had five people review the case — looking at different sets of data,” said Judy Melinek.
Melinek is a San Francisco based forensic pathologist who says Sacramento County performed the first autopsy on Stephon Clark. After the first autopsy, organs are removed, and the body is no longer in its original pristine state, leaving a second pathologist with different information to work with.
“In the second autopsy, you’re looking at evidence that’s already been altered by the first pathologist, who removed that evidence, including bullets, and even cutting into gunshot wounds on the body itself,” said Melinek.
She says, this often can lead to different conclusions.
“For example, if he sees a hole in the body, he may misinterpret that hole as a gunshot wound but that hole may have been caused by the pathologist doing the first autopsy,” said Melinek.
In a quick comparison, the county autopsy report indicates that Clark was shot seven times – not eight as Dr. Bennet Omalu had found- and three of the shots – not six – were fired into his back.
Wednesday night, Dr. Omalu released a statement saying:
“I stand firmly in defense of my independent autopsy of Stephon Clark and the prevailing evidentiary autopsy findings.”
Referencing a graphic black and white photo of Clark’s body from the autopsy, he reconfirms that Clark was shot more than 3 times in the back, and adds that the county missed some critical steps: He says:
“I examined the spinal cord and documented injuries that were not identified during the County’s autopsy. At this time, none of the pathologists who have signed the autopsy report and claimed that I was wrong have examined the spinal cord, either grossly or microscopically,” said Dr. Omalu.
“It could be they’re both a little right, both a little wrong, people can make mistakes if they don’t have all the information,” said Melinek.
She adds, “I want to caution people, to not jump to conclusions, whether or not this is a justifiable homicide or not, those decisions will be coming from the legal system, and it’s gonna take time.”
The Clark family attorney also released a statement tonight, calling the county coroner’s report “outrageous.”
And that ultimately, it comes down to Stephon Clark being shot in the back, multiple times, while armed with nothing more than a cellphone.
Joint Statement from Attorneys Ben Crump, Brian Panish, Dale Galipo Regarding County Autopsy of Stephon Clark:
“It is outrageous, but not surprising, that authorities would attempt to defend the indefensible by attacking the credibility of a world-renowned and highly accredited pathologist. As Dr. Omalu explained in his statement, his autopsy was far more thorough than the one perpetrated by the government, yet they have tried to foist their interpretation as the truth in a shameless attempt to undercut the clear conclusion of his findings — that Stephon Clark was shot in the back, multiple times, while armed with nothing more than a cellphone, posing no real threat to police. This is, unfortunately, what happens when there are thinly veiled conflicts of interest between law enforcement and those investigating their actions.
“Given his history, it’s also not surprising that Dr. Reiber was hired to review the findings of the County’s autopsy report. He was employed by the County of Sacramento and has been historically pro-law enforcement as evidenced recently in the California Legislature where he testified in opposition of SB 1303 that seeks to remove the possibility of conflict of interest by requiring that forensic autopsies be conducted only by a licensed physician or surgeon in counties with 500,000 people or more. Current law allows non-medically trained individuals, who are often elected or appointed, to conduct the autopsies. The people of Sacramento are entitled to the truth, not only in the cause of death of Stephon Clark, but in the manner in which he died – at the hands of law enforcement, without cause.”