New details on the investigation into Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Tom Clark

TACOMA, Wash. — When Nina Summerrise's son Ian Sherls' body was found inside a narrow well in Tacoma's Swann Creek Park last November, she was stunned. It looked like a murder, but Summerrise says she can't think of any reason someone would kill him.

“He was fun, he was just a caring, loving guy. I have no idea what possibly happened to him,” said Summerrise adding, “I want the truth to come out.”

The 41-year-old Sherls was found weeks after he vanished. His body was wedged tightly inside a 20-inch pipe. A cellphone was placed on top of his head, according to police reports.

Pierce county medical examiner Dr. Thomas Clark's conclusion was that Sherls had somehow found the pipe hidden in woods around the park and forced himself down into it to commit suicide.

Summerrise says she can't believe her son would go to such extreme lengths, forcing his own body down the narrow pipe to drown himself.

“The fact that he had a cellphone on top of his head. Did he balance that on his head as he wiggled himself down a pipe? No,” said Summerrise. “I’m not an investigator or anything like that, but that in itself would just throw up all kinds of red flags.”

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It's conclusions like that that led Clark's associate medical examiner Dr. Megan Quinn to file a whistleblower complaint in January, accusing him of rushing to conclusions and conducting shoddy death investigations. He's also under investigation by the state medical commission.

Quinn has since been placed on administrative leave by Pierce County facing allegations of insubordination and ethics violations.

She and her attorney say no evidence of those claims has been given to them and Quinn denies them, and said she believes the county’s actions are in retaliation for her whistleblower complaint.

“I do, I do. I hate to say that,” she said in an interview with KIRO 7.

A Pierce county spokeswoman declined to comment beyond confirming Quinn was on leave.

Ian Sherls' family isn't the only one that believes Thomas Clark has ruled a death a suicide when it may have been murder.

“I believe that somebody hurt my baby,” said Laura Black, the mother of Jessica Black, who was found dead in her Puyallup home in 2017. Her throat had been slashed with broken glass. The cut was 6 inches across and 4 inches deep. Police suspected homicide but according to the medical examiner's report, the cause of death was suicide.

“Hell no, it couldn’t be,” said Laura Black. She says she challenged Clark’s conclusion. “And I said no, I don’t believe that, and he said I don’t care what you believe. 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. What I say stands.'”

KIRO 7 reached out to Jack Connelly,  the attorney representing Dr. Thomas Clark who said the investigation into Quinn is not retaliatory, saying it was about her, “not understanding her job”, due to inexperience.

Below are KIRO 7's segments from the 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. newscasts.