Pierce County medical examiner explains refusal to change controversial finding on teen's death

TACOMA, Wash. — When Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark ruled the death of 16-year-old Jordon Gish a suicide, Gish's father desperately tried to contact Clark hoping to change his mind.

"I never got to talk to him," said Michael Gish.

Now more than two years after the death of his son, Gish has received a letter from Clark explaining why he refuses to change his finding, and his mind.

Gish died in a fall from a bridge crossing the Puyallup River on Meridian Avenue around 3:30 on the morning of July 6, 2017. Surveillance video shows Gish and a friend running through vacant parking lots. Goofing around, according to Puyallup police and Gish's family.

Gish says after repeated calls, an employee at the ME's office told him surveillance video provided conclusive evidence his son took his own life. But, in a recent deposition Clark admitted the video didn't clearly show the moment Gish died.

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"The video is grainy, it's distant, it's low resolution," Clark testified in response to a suit filed by Gish to have the death certificate changed.

But it wasn't until after Michael Gish filed the suit, the deposition, and several reports by KIRO 7, that Clark finally reached out to explain his finding.

In a letter dated Aug. 27 obtained by KIRO 7, Clark stands by his claim that the teenager committed suicide, even if he didn't intend to deliberately take his own life.

"It is my opinion that an average person would understand that jumping off of that bridge would carry a high risk of harm or death," Clark wrote "If Jordon approached the bridge knowing the height and distance from the adjacent bridge, he would have understood that risk."

Just as he had under oath, Clark compared the teenager's death to someone playing Russian roulette, writing that his finding was in line with standards set by the National Association of Medical Examiners.

Clark ended the letter writing, "The death of a child is one of the worst experiences a parent can have and I wish there were something I could do to make it easier for you."

But Michael Gish maintains if Clark had spoken to him and Jordon's family they would have told him his son showed no warning signs he wanted to die.

"Friends even got ahold of us and said, you know, he wasn't suicidal."

Gish's suit is scheduled for a review in Pierce County Superior Court Sept. 27. Clark also faces investigation by the Washington Medical Commission after three complaints were filed, and a whistleblower complaint filed by Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Megan Quinn.

See our previous coverage of the Pierce County's Medical Examiner below.

August 21: Video shows Pierce County medical examiner discussing controversial decision about teen's death

August 19: Pierce County's prosecuting attorney says subpoenas demanding records from media won't be refiled

May 14: Employee claims Pierce County Medical Examiner fabricated evidence

April 11: Family of teen who died in fall from Puyallup bridge suing to have cause of death changed

March 13: Employees speak out on Pierce County Medical Examiner

March 12: Family claims Pierce County medical examiner should not have ruled son's death a suicide

March 8: Attorney representing Pierce County Medical Examiner responds to complaints

March 7: Independent review unveils concerns on some of Pierce County Medical Examiner's conclusions

March 6: Police speak out on how Pierce County medical examiner handled possible homicide case

March 4: Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark now facing three separate complaints

March 1: New details on the investigation into Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Tom Clark

January 24: Whistleblower accuses Pierce County Medical Examiner of shoddy death investigations