Renowned Pathologist Blasts San Joaquin County Sheriff in Resignation Letter

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY -- San Joaquin County's chief forensic pathologist on 10 years, Dr. Bennet Omalu, turned in his resignation Tuesday morning.

Omalu joined the county in September 2007; he is well-known for his discovery of the brain injury known as CTE.

He is the second pathologist in the county to announce a departure. Last week, pathologist Dr. Susan Parson resigned, citing rampant dysfunction in the county sheriff's department, which runs the coroners office.

In Omalu's resignation he also states the sheriff crossed ethical lines and used his influence over the coroner's office.

Omalu says Sheriff Steve Moore has always made calculated attempts to control him as a physician and influence his professional judgement, adding he was afraid he would lose his medical license. One such instance involved the sheriff ordering staff to remove hands from bodies at the morgue.

The case that led Omalu to decide to leave was the death of Abelino Cordova-Cuevas, who died in police custody back in March 2016.

"On this day I was convinced that it was time for me to leave the sheriff's office," Omalu wrote.

Omalu wrote he believed Cordova-Cuevas' death should be medically defined as a homicide.

In documents obtained by FOX40, Omalu alleges the sheriff asked him to change the cause of death from "homicide" to "accidental" when it came to officer-involved deaths.

"In his mind, he seems to believe that every officer-involved death should be ruled an accident because the police did not mean to kill anyone," he wrote.

The doctor states Moore often stopped him from attending crime scenes.

In his resignation letter, Omalu says lately he became afraid that if he continued to work under these conditions, he may have been jeopardizing his medical license.

"Several months ago, I received a phone call from an attorney who was representing the family of a man who had recently died in a motor vehicle crash. The family wanted to do a second autopsy after my autopsy because they did not believe and trust that my eventual conclusions and opinions would not be influenced by Sheriff Steve Moore. That phone call bothered me and caused me to begin to suspect that the pervasive and adversarial environment in which I was working could be influencing my professional judgement, opinions and conclusions, without me knowing it. At this moment I realized that I had to leave to seek employment in another County in California where the Sheriff is not like Sheriff Steve Moore."

"San Joaquin County is a failed agency," retired law enforcement officer and frequent Moore critic Frank Gayaldo said. "This is not going to be easy to fix."

Retired deputy sergeant and candidate for sheriff Pat Withrow fears his former coworkers will be under fire because of the allegations against Moore.

"To have some politician stick his nose into this and try to change the facts of the case, that does nothing but hurt us," he told FOX40

After the release of Dr. Omalu's resignation letter, the president of the San Joaquin County Medical Society released the following statement:

“The allegations are alarming, and we urge the proper authorities to conduct a full investigation. Physician independence is paramount to avoid improper influence on the practice of medicine. Physicians have the unique obligation to put the patient first, and thus, they must be empowered to work independently in serving the best needs of the patient.” - R. Grant Mellor, MD

Both Omalu and Parson are members of the San Joaquin County Medical Society and the California Medical Association.

Sheriff Moore said he would be available for comment later this week.