Several days ago, District Attorney Maggie Fleming issued a press release about the DA’s investigation into the death of Daren Borges. The first line of the press release was almost unbelievable, as is the whole story regarding the unfortunate and preventable death of Daren. From the press release:
“In response to a request by his family, District Attorney Maggie Fleming has reviewed the circumstances of the death of Mr. Daren Borges in June of last year…”
So are we being led to believe that the policy at the HCSO and the DA’s office has changed? The policy for years has been that all jail deaths were to be reviewed by the multi agency Critical Incident Response Team (which included the DA’s office). You might remember that this multi agency team investigated the death of Martin Cotton II. After the investigation, DA Paul Gallegos decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved (although Eureka did lose a multimillion dollar lawsuit later on).
Apparently, at least if you take this press release at face value, in order to get the DA to investigate a death in the Humboldt County Jail, the family of the deceased has to ask for it. If that is true, it is disgusting and wrong.
The other portion of the press release that peaked our interest was the supposed cause of death. From the press release:
“The pathologist’s report states: “Considering the circumstances surrounding his death, as I understand them at this time, death is attributed to the toxic effects of methamphetamine which the decedent had in his blood in an extremely high level. …The high level suggests he ingested a large quantity of the drug prior to being confronted by the Eureka PD officer on the street.”
First of all, can we trust this pathologists report? Probably not, since the County still contracts with the well known and very little respected Forensic Medical Group Inc. out of Fairfield. Here’s some highlights from a story on this private company from a few years ago:
Without Competition, Private Firm Reaps Millions in Autopsy Work
Forensic Medical Group Inc. has faced little competition in growing into Northern California’s largest autopsy provider.
Founded in 1975 by a Vacaville forensic pathologist who has since retired, the private firm has filled a niche in a part of California starved for autopsy services….
The firm’s total revenue is proprietary, but invoices show it had more than $3 million in autopsy billings in 2009, up about 30 percent from 2006, records show.
Peterson said he expanded the firm’s reach by casting it as a more-professional, higher-capacity alternative to solo practitioners. Several of the group’s biggest contracts were awarded without competitive bidding because no other vendor could provide the necessary services……
In August 2010, the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office fired its chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Mark Super, for unspecified reasons. Then, left with just one in-house forensic pathologist to handle more than 1,000 cases a year, the county hired Forensic Medical Group – where Super is a part owner and works full-time – to pick up the slack……
Forensic Medical Group also performs an unknown number of autopsies for hospitals and relatives who want a medical examination outside a coroner’s or medical examiner’s office.
The firm currently has five doctors, each of whom handle 300 cases a year or more (PDF), well above the annual workload the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends for forensic pathologists.
The firm lost Marin County’s business in 2008 when Ken Holmes, then the county’s elected coroner, saw indications its work was slipping.
Holmes said he received a call from a grieving husband. In reading over his wife’s autopsy report, the husband told Holmes, he noted the document described her ovaries as “unremarkable.” In fact, the husband said, his wife’s ovaries had been removed 30 years earlier……”
Another story about this group from SFGate:
Forensic Medical Group scrutinized
Private firm’s mistakes and caseload worry experts Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch
“Coroners in Northern California are farming out thousands of cases each year to a private firm whose doctors have dissected the wrong body and have given inaccurate testimony that helped send an innocent person to jail, according to a leading investigative review.
Doctors with Forensic Medical Group Inc. routinely handle caseloads that leaders in the field of forensic pathology call risky, conducting as many as three autopsies in an hour or nine autopsies in a single shift, an investigation by ProPublica, Frontline, NPR, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, and California Watch has found.
Although some of the firm’s doctors have been praised for their skills and professionalism, the Forensic Medical Group also has employed physicians who were fired by public agencies for substandard work, according to public records and investigators…”
And for even more information, check this out from PBS:
But even if you’re willing to put aside the very delayed investigation and potentially substandard autopsy, one more question glaringly stands out. If Daren was under the influence of methamphetamine to such a degree that he died less than 2 hours after arriving at the jail, why didn’t the police or jail staff have him checked out at at St. Josephs Hospital? One would assume that both agencies knew he was under the influence, since that’s what he was arrested for. Was he checked out by a nurse at the jail? We can’t tell based on the press release. However, if anyone had taken the time to check Darens pulse, or the other obvious symptoms of meth use, they may have seen the signs that he was in potential danger. In this case, no one cared or took the time to check.
The Examiner questions whether the County or the City learned anything after the death of Martin Cotton II. He was also brought to the jail and thrown into a cell where he died shortly thereafter. He was also under the influence (according to Coroner Jager he had taken a lethal dose of LSD). Since the police are going to arrest people who can’t care for themselves due to being under the influence, then they should make sure that the people get the proper care they need. The practices and policies of EPD and the HCSO need to change….the sooner the better. How many more people need to die before this area demands change?