Governor Vetoes Senate Bill 1303 Which Would Have Required Medical Experts Conduct Autopsies

September 19, 2018

SACRAMENTO, CA –Senate Bill 1303, authored by Dr. Richard Pan to require autopsies be conducted by medical experts to ensure they are accurate and unbiased was vetoed by Governor Brown on Tuesday.

Specifically, the bill would have required a county to establish a medical examiner’s office in lieu of a sheriff-coroner office or institute a policy to refer the manner and type of death investigation to another California county that implements a medical examiner model in cases where there is a conflict of interest for the sheriff-coroner.

“I am disappointed in the veto because it would have been an important step in ensuring the integrity of autopsy reports and achieving justice for people across California,” said Dr. Richard Pan. “I want to thank the courage of Dr. Bennet Omalu and Dr. Susan Parson, who risked their careers and had to resign their positions to speak out about abuses in their own county. I know there are other stories out there and medical examiners in other counties shouldn’t have to risk their own careers to ensure justice.”

In those California counties that operate a Sheriff-Coroner model, the Sheriff, an elected official, is responsible for investigating suspicious deaths.

SB 1303 would have removed the possibility of conflict of interest by requiring that the office of the coroner or the sheriff’s coroner’s office, be replaced with a medical examiner’s office in counties with a population of 500,000 or greater, and for those counties not governed by county charters. The bill was amended to allow counties the option to refer a death investigation to another California County that implements a medical examiner model, in those cases where there is a conflict of interest for the Sheriff-Corner.

SB 1303 would have impacted Contra Costa, Kern, Riverside, San Joaquin, Sonoma and Stanislaus counties.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was San Joaquin County’s chief forensic pathologist before he resigned in December 2017, alleged that Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore interfered with death investigations to protect law enforcement officers, and influenced and controlled the judgments and opinions of physicians.

SB 1303 was sponsored by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD) and the California Medical Association. “Unfortunately, the governor's veto of SB 1303 represents a missed opportunity to keep objectivity and science paramount in California death investigations. Doctors will remain committed to that goal,” said Dr. Stuart A. Bussey, M.D., J.D., president of UAPD.

In 2016 Dr. Richard Pan authored SB 1189 which stated that if law enforcement personnel was directly involved with the custody of an individual and that person died in their care, they would not be allowed inside the autopsy room during the performance of the autopsy.  Further, it required police reports, crime scene photos and videos or other information that is in the possession of law enforcement be made available to the medical examiner prior to the completion of the death investigation.

 

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