Embattled Pierce County Medical Examiner says he's leaving his post amid ongoing investigation

VIDEO: Embattled Pierce County Medical Examiner says he's leaving his post amid ongoing investigation

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — After months of employee complaints, including a whistleblower complaint, accusations filed with the Washington Medical Commission and an investigation by the state Department of Health, Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark announced Monday he will step down.

The announcement came suddenly. In a news release a county spokesperson said Clark would retire at the end of 2020 adding, "An independent investigation into complaints raised by employees of the Medical Examiner's Office is still underway. Clark's retirement announcement does not impact this investigation."

The release said Senior Counsel for Justice Services Carol Mitchell, "will provide onsite management and support to the Medical Examiner's staff during this period of transition."

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Dr. Megan Quinn filed a whistleblower complaint against Clark, accusing him of taking shortcuts on death investigations, particularly involving children. She also claimed Clark has retaliated causing her suspension in February.

"Dr. Clark has also lodged complaints against, as far as I can tell, everyone who has spoken out against him," Quinn told KIRO 7 last week.

Reacting to Monday's retirement announcement, Quinn wrote in a statement, "The decision to hold Dr. Clark responsible for his misconduct reflects accountability by Pierce County." But Quinn also wrote that she remains concerned that in the face of so many allegations officials are "willing to turn a blind eye and allow him to leave on his own terms on Pierce County's dime."

Two forensic investigators also went public with their concerns talking with KIRO 7 in March, eight employees signed a letter of no confidence.

"We're terrified to speak out because we're afraid of retaliation, we're afraid of bullying," said Medicolegal Death Investigator Jill Lombardi. "I don't think Dr. Clark should be in charge or oversee any human being," added Medicolegal Death Investigator Jacob Atzet.

Three complaints were filed with the Washington Medical Commission, one by Quinn, and two by former associate medical examiners.

In July, a state investigation into complaints against Clark including that he, "fails to send vitreous electrolytes," bodily fluids, "for testing in the deaths of children that were ruled undetermined, performs limited autopsies in cases of undetermined SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, and fails perform autopsies on charred bodies recovered from a fire scene," was expanded.

Dr. Matthew Lacy, a former Associate Medical Examiner who now works in Snohomish County spoke with KIRO 7 in March.

"If the county is going to regain confidence in its medical examiner, Dr. Clark needs to go," Lacy said.

Recent complaints follow a 2015 whistleblower filed by former forensic investigator Melissa Baker who accused Clark of creating a hostile work environment. While the county said Baker's complaints were unfounded, she received a cash settlement of more than $200,000 and left her career.

"I just want to say shame on you Pierce County for letting this go on," Baker told KIRO 7 in an interview last week. "It's despicable."

Clark has been under fire for ruling that the 2017 death of 16-year old Jordon Gish was a suicide, despite Puyallup Police contending the teen accidentally fell from a bridge after leaving home to goof around with a friend in the middle of the night.

"I just don't think that just because my son's gone that I need to stop fighting for him," said Jordon's father, Michael Gish. He filed suit to have Clark re-classify his son's death as an accident.

Reacting to news that Clark will retire at the end of next year, Gish said, "I think he should be gone sooner than that."
See our previous coverage of the Pierce County's Medical Examiner below.