San Joaquin County Sheriff Continues to Deny Allegations Made in Pathologists’ Resignation Letters

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY -- San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore continues to deny allegations that he tried to influence pathologists' work in the coroner's office.

Doctors Susan Parson and Bennet Omalu both sent their letters of resignation in the last month, accusing Moore of acting unethically.

Omalu is renowned for his research on the degenerative brain disease known as CTE.

Omalu has claimed the sheriff has changed cause of death from "homicide" to "accident" in regards to officer-involved shootings.

"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," Omalu wrote.

In a conversation with FOX40 on Monday, Sheriff Moore disputed that claim.

"I'm not aware of anything with officer-involved shootings but, again, it's my determination based on the totality of the circumstances of each of these cases," Moore said.

Moore says as the sheriff and coroner, it's his job to determine the manner of death.

"I don't need to ask Dr. Omalu to change anything because it's not his responsibility to determine the manner of death," he said.

The sheriff also denied ever trying to control or influence pathologists.

"I don't believe he's putting all the pieces together totally correct but that is his perception," Moore told FOX40.

In Omalu's memo, the doctor claims Moore ordered hands to be severed from bodies for identification purposes. Moore explained it rarely happens but is necessary when they are unable to identify the bodies.

"I believe it is my total responsibility to ensure that when we return someone to their loved ones that we're returning them to the right person," he said.

But in memos obtained by FOX40, Dr. Parson claimed that at least one of the bodies had already been identified before the hands were removed.

On Friday, Dr. Omalu, through his union representative, said that he and Dr. Parson are willing to revoke their resignations if the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors separate the coroner and sheriff's office. The sheriff said he would support the move.

"Should the board and the people of this county wish that should happen, then I will not stand in their way," Moore said.

The California Medical Association and the San Joaquin Medical Society have already asked for the county to immediately separate the coroner's office from the sheriff's office.

Changes to the coroner-sheriff's office have been made in other counties. For instance, in Santa Clara, the sheriff and coroner's office reportedly were separated last year after a forensic pathologist made claims the sheriff in that county was interfering with death cases. The separation cost Santa Clara County about $800,000 to separate the offices.

San Joaquin County has not made public any plans to separate the offices and it's unclear how much it would costs if that decision was made.

A demonstration was scheduled for Monday afternoon in Stockton for families of people who have been killed by Stockton Police.

Dionne Smith-Downs' son, James Rivera, was killed in 2010 after police said he was backing a minivan toward officers. She said Monday's event was organized in response to claims Sheriff Moore interfered in officer-involved death investigations.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office announced Monday that it has launched an investigation into the allegations made by Omalu and Parson. The DA says that the investigation began prior to the public release of the allegations.