Attorney representing Pierce County Medical Examiner responds to complaints

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TACOMA, Wash. — After repeated requests, the attorney representing Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark has responded to a series of KIRO 7 reports on complaints about Clark’s findings in some death investigations.

KIRO 7 has interviewed three families who question Clark's findings following the death of a loved one, including Tom Gale, whose brother, Stephen Gale, died on July 4, 2017.

“Our citizens aren’t safe with this medical director [sic] in charge,” said Tom Gale

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Dr. Clark ruled the cause of Stephen Gale's death was undetermined, even though police arrested suspect Tyler Thiel on suspicion of second-degree murder. Steilacoom police say Thiel admitted stomping on Gale’s head during a fight. Police have asked the Pierce County prosecutor to review the case and consider refiling charges, even though Clark's finding led to charges against Thiel being dismissed more than a year and a half ago.

Dr. Clark responded to KIRO 7 for the first time through his attorney Jack Connelly. In the statement Connelly writes, “The findings and conclusions are not as reported and there are significant reasons for the conclusions based on the pathological and autopsy evidence which are not being included in the KIRO TV news reports."

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KIRO 7 reported on the case of Ian Sherls,  which Clark ruled a suicide. Sherls' body was found wedged in a 20-inch wide well hidden in a heavily wooded area in Tacoma. He was found with a cellphone placed on his head. Sherls' mother can't see how it could have been a suicide.

“The fact that he had a cellphone placed on top of his head, did he balance that on his head as he wiggled himself down a pipe? No,” said Nina Summerrise.

Jessica Black was found with a 6-inch long, 4-inch deep wound in her throat. Clark ruled Black's death a suicide, concluding that she slit her own throat with a broken piece of mirror.  But Clark didn't conduct an autopsy. Black's mother was shocked by Dr. Clark's ruling.

“I said no, I don’t believe that,” Laura Black said. “And he said I don’t care what you believe. And I said, well the police told me they don’t believe that, and he said, I don’t care what the police say. I am the medical examiner and what I say is what stands.”

In the statement defending Dr. Clark, his attorney writes, “One of the cases being reported by KIRO TV is actually not even concluded yet.” KIRO 7 sent a follow up email asking Connelly which case he was referring to, but did not get a response.

The statement also said “a second case similarly involves substantial evidence which is being ignored by the attorney and other persons providing the information for the KIRO TV reports and which is available." Again, Connelly didn't state which case he is referring to.

The statement does address comments by Dr. Megan Quinn, an associate medical examiner with Pierce county who was placed on leave after filing a whistleblower complaint about Clark in January.

“Do you believe this is retaliation?” Quinn was asked in an interview with KIRO 7 March 1. “I do, I do. I hate to say that,” Quinn responded.

But Clark's attorney writes “this was not done in retaliation,” adding "this was not action taken by Dr. Clark, though he does not disagree with the action" Quinn was accused of conflict of interest, insubordination. and an ethics violation by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier.  But so far no specific allegations have been made public.

“Do you believe that, at any point, you committed any acts of insubordination or any ethic violations?” Quinn was asked in the KIRO 7 interview. “I do not,” she responded. “I’m confident about that.”

In addition to the whistleblower complaint, Clark faces three complaints filed with the Washington State Medical Commission. KIRO 7 has made repeated requests for comment from Dammeier. Through a spokeswoman, Dammeier has declined comment while the investigations are underway.