Friday, December 14, 2012
Complaint Against Memphis Medical Examiner
The following is a Complaint by Memphis Black Autonomy Federation against the Shelby County, Tennessee Medical Examiner's Office, mailed December 13, 2012.
Dr. John J. Dreyzener, Commissioner
Tennessee Department of Health
Board of Medical Examiners
227 French Landing, Suite 300
Nashville, TN. 37243
COMPLAINT AGAINST UNETHICAL AND UNPROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT BY THE SHELBY COUNTRY MEDICAL EXAMINER’S OFFICE.
Dear Dr. Dreyzehner and members of the Board:
My name is JoNina M. Ervin, and I am the Acting President of the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation, an African-American human rights organization, which has a focus on monitoring law enforcement issues in Memphis-Shelby County,TN. This complaint is brought against Dr. Karen Chancellor and her staff for:
(1). Colluding with the Memphis Police Department to tailor reports of deaths in custody in order to justify or cover up police use of unjustified deadly force against unarmed civilians. The ME’s Office is supposed to be an impartial arbiter of the truth, able to conduct medical-legal investigations, however Dr. Chancellor routinely sits down with the police “Shooting Team” and at their behest alters the actual findings of homicide to “accident” or “unknown”, or otherwise manipulates the true findings of police misconduct or excessive use of force to a result palatable to police authorities. She is colluding with police authorities to alter her reports, and this is gross misconduct and corrupt practice.
a. She apparently faked the form of death in the case of Hernandez Dowdy, 36, shot to death on June 27, 2012 to an “accident” or “unknown”. Police say Dowdy was a carjacking suspect whom they chased, and that they killed him because they mistakenly thought he had a gun, when he sought to flee. No weapon was ever produced, and he was shot in the back. However, it was later learned that the white female who owned the car he had been driving, had filed a false report that the car was ever stolen, and that the police knew this before they even confronted him. When relatives of the dead man went to the police department to press the issue and seek answers, even police officials admitted to family members that the case was “probably going to be investigated as a murder” or taken before an Inquest, yet they have taken no action to file the case in court, and the ME’s office refuses to release the autopsy records. This is clearly obstruction of justice by both the police and the ME’s office.
b. Dewayne Bailey, 38, shot to death on May 8, 2012 is another case of excessive use of force by officers. According to police, Bailey was asleep in his car in a store parking lot in South Memphis. When police officers woke him up, they said Bailey got out of his car and fought with the police. Then, police said Bailey got back in his car and started driving it, dragging a police officer, and it was then that they shot him. An online petition of Bailey’s family says he was shot 32 times. The details of his killing have not yet been released by police, and the Medical Examiner’s office refuses to release the autopsy and ME report for fear that it might hurt the police department if the family brings a lawsuit. The events as police have recited them a fraudulent and designed to shield them from civil liability or a criminal case against officers.
NOTE: These are just some of the cases of deaths of custody this year, there are others that may need to be examined as well, we do not claim that every case is the result of misconduct, but since the documents are being withheld, it is not possible to make an independent judgment beyond what we have stated here.
c. William Howlett, 41, died on March 10, 2012, after being chased and arrested by police. According to police, they chased Howlett after his girlfriend said he attacked her. Police admit to a struggle with Howlett, and said he then became “unresponsive” after he was in custody. Howlett was pronounced dead at the Regional Medical Center shortly thereafter, and this case was supposed to have been referred to the County ME’s office. To date, the official cause of his death has not been released by the Medical Examiner’s office.
d. Randy Green died in March, 2012 as a result of a confrontation with MPD and campus police. According to a family friend, Green, who was legally blind, was pepper-sprayed to death by Memphis police officers on the campus of the University of Memphis, where he was attempting to use the library. It is not known if his case was even properly referred to the Medical Examiner’s office, or if they examined the crime scene, and whether this is yet another case of ME-police cover-up.
e. Justin Thompson, a 15 year old school child, was shot four times by a Memphis police officer on September 24, 2012, and the motive was presented as “robbery”. No weapon was ever produced or other evidence of “robbery” ever presented. His brother whom they claim was a participant was never attested, and indeed was not even on the scene. The entire story was a scam. The ME’s office is purportedly investigating the body, but has issued no findings of any sort, or have decided to keep such finding a secret at the behest of the police. This appears to be yet another cover-up of police misconduct and excessive use of force by the County Medical Examiner’s Office, working in collusion with the police and local political authorities to protect their interests rather than impartially presenting the facts to the public or a grand jury, if need be.
(2). Although she certifies them as such, Dr. Chancellor’s autopsy reports are not a true and exact copy of the ME’s actual report; the charts are reduced to 60% of size, and have no histology tissues samples and other exhibits and data. This gives her an advantage when she later testifies for the state and produces a full size chart and complete data.
(3). The Medical Examiner’s Office routinely hinders independent autopsies by forensic pathologists hired as consultants by Defense attorneys or families who contest the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s findings. She will not afford free access to evidence, histology slides, crime scene photos or autopsy photos, or other needed materials to those parties.
(4). The County ME’s office does not properly comply with the State Open Records Act. On August 29, 2012, I requested a copy of the autopsies and attended ME and toxicological reports from eight persons who had then died in the custody of the Memphis Police Department. On August 31, 2012, Stephanie Dowell, Office Manager of the ME’s office, replied stating that we would have to pay upwards of $25 per case report, and that we must pay in advance before being allowed to even view any such report. On September 1, 2012, I wrote back to MS. Dowell, explaining that by law we could not be charged more than $.15 per page for an Open Records Act request, and that the ME could not prevent us from viewing the documents by demanding that we first pay for the documents. Finally, on November 17, 2012 I filed a complaint letter to the Shelby County Mayor’s office, and asked them to intervene, but they upheld her position. The ME’s office and Shelby County government officials are clearly just putting up roadblocks to deter members of the public from obtaining access to documents which may counter the police version of events, or open their office up to outside scrunity.
(5). Refusing to communicate with families of persons whose loved ones died as a result of police action. Dr. Chancellor has refused to properly communicate with family members of the ten persons who died in police custody in 2012, including two persons who died as a result of a deadly wreck in August 2012 due to a police officer not following proper MPD protocol for speeding in a non-emergency situation, without flashing lights or siren. Family member have had to resort to media appeals for documents and facts from her office and the police, because she arrogantly and unprofessionally refuses to reply and/or tells them they must pay for autopsy documents “the same as everyone else”. Although presumably conducting autopsies in all such cases, Dr. Chancellor refuses to make the results public, unless it suits her office or protects the police. She almost never delivers them to the families of anyone whose family members had died in police custody. This is done strictly to protect the police department and cover up the true causes of death. It is however an extreme force of disrespect to the families who have lost loved ones, and an example of the misconduct of her office.
(6). Improper public release of documents. Due to the number of persons killed by the Memphis Police Department, on September 8, 2012, the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation held a march and rally at City Hall in downtown Memphis. This demonstration was reported in the news media, and especially the participation of the family of Lorenzo Davis, a young man whose death was vehemently contested by his family and friends who made a large part of the contingent, and who publicly accused the police of murder. Although the Medical Examiner’s office would not release the autopsy reports and other reports to the family, they did release the autopsy results to the local media on September 15, 2012, which stated the cause of death as “cocaine toxicity”, strictly to protect the police and sway the public that the death was accidental or self-induced. As is her usual practice, she refuses to communicate with the family, but saw fit to conduct a public relations campaign on behalf of the Memphis Police Department, to protect them from charges of excessive use of force.
The Shelby County Medical Examiner’s office routinely engages in unethical and unprofessional misconduct. Rather than being a neutral medical-legal examiner in suspicious cases involving persons who die in custody, she engages in collusion with political and police authorities of the city of Memphis to alter her reports for their benefit. She is further engaged in an improper campaign of hindering access to public documents, and conducting a media campaign to improperly release documents to shape public opinion in favor of the police. She refuses to communicate with families seeking to know the cause of death of their loved ones, and to receive autopsy reports, forcing them to pay $25.00 for such documents.
The public has lost faith in the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office, they believe generally that they are just hand-maidens of the police department, and that none of their autopsies are impartial or professional. We are asking for a full investigation of the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office for these and undisclosed past and current actions, in violation of the rules of this regulatory body and the laws of this state. If our complaint is substantiated, we would expect full disciplinary penalties to be applied to the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office. Thank you.
JoNina M. Ervin
Memphis Black Autonomy Federation
P.O. Box 16382
Memphis, TN. 38186-0382