10 February 2016

Liberia: Contradictions in Credentials - Liberia Flip-Flops Over Pathologists

"We are satisfied that they are qualify to do the autopsy, we are giving you their report today, if for any reason any party, group of journalists or political parties believe that our report is wrong they are at liberty to bring their own forensic doctors to do theirs, but, as a government we have done what we have to do and that is the report we are giving you today" - Justice Minister Cllr. Benedict Sannoh

Monrovia - Contradictions were in full effect Tuesday when the government of Liberia rejected reports that it has brought in suspended or banned pathologist to probe the death of Mr. Harry Greaves. The government's chief spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Dr. Thomas Bennett conducted his last autopsy in the United States on February 3, prior to coming to Liberia.

Addressing a weekly news briefing Tuesday, Minister Nagbe contrary to speculation, Dr. Bennett has already conducted more than 25 autopsies in 2016 alone and wondered how could Dr. Bennett be suspended or banned when he continues to practice as a forensic pathologist and also be allowed by the American government to come to Liberia.

On the contrary, various U.S. media reports suggest that Dr. Bennett has a problematic record and he was barred by the Montana Attorney General Office from conducting autopsies for county coroners as an associate medical examiner. Bennett served as associate medical examiner in Montana since 1998, and according to Montana-based Missoulian newspaper, was a major factor in the resignations of the state's chief medical examiners. Gary Dale resigned last April. "Walter Kemp left on July 1, and mentioned Bennett's "un-appointment" in his letter of resignation," the report noted.

The newspaper citing court records, reported that Mr. Dale, as head medical examiner, repeatedly asked Bennett to stop conducting autopsies on children. Bennett had left Iowa as chief medical examiner after numerous authorities called into question his conclusions that infant deaths were caused by shaken baby syndrome. Bennett conducted autopsies for coroners in eastern Montana through his private practice in Billings, Forensic Medicine and Pathology.

In a correspondence, officials in the Attorney General's Office notified Bennett that his appointment would come to a close July 1. The State Medical Examiner's Office will hire a state employee to do autopsies in eastern Montana, and counties will no longer pay a fee for service to a pathologist appointed as an associate. The newspaper report noted that Chief of staff Mike Milburn said the medical examiners' concerns about Bennett's work on children came to a head after a lengthy evaluation, prompting the Attorney General's Office decided to restructure the State Medical Examiner's Office.

FrontPageAfrica sought a response from Montana AG Tim Fox for its print edition but was told that Mr. Fox and his staff were in a meeting most of the day and he or his communications aides who were in the same meeting would reply after the meeting. Bennett's poor autopsies forced the state to shift its forensic Pathologists work. Pathologists who do autopsies for coroners will be under direct supervision by the state medical examiner, Milburn said. "The change means Bennett's practice will no longer perform autopsies for county coroners," the newspaper report noted.

The report went on to say that the former Montana state medical examiner had requested Bennett refrain from doing autopsies on children more than a decade ago, when Bennett first began working in Montana, records show." Bennett apparently refused to comply with the head examiner, who is appointed by the attorney general. The Billings doctor continued to do child autopsies through the administrations of four attorneys general,' according to the report. The report contradicts Liberian government officials' defense of the two Pathologists.

In a 2005 letter, Dale informed county coroners and attorneys that any examinations of children by Bennett "are done so outside his appointment as an associate state medical examiner." "Prior to coming to Montana in 1998, Dr. Bennett rendered problematic opinions regarding alleged non-accidental traumatic infant deaths in Iowa," Dale said. "Despite verbal and three written ... instructions by me to 'refrain from conducting Montana coroner-requested autopsies on children,' Dr. Bennett has continued to perform these examinations." In September 2014, the issue came to a head at the Attorney General's Office.

Last week, Attorney General Tim Fox said the department spent the better part of a year sorting through complicated and long-standing issues in the State Medical Examiner's Office. "It's been something that we're still in some respects trying to get our arms around," Fox said.

However, he also said his team is putting into place a different model for autopsies conducted by the medical examiner, a structure designed to fix the previous lack of accountability, communication and peer review. In the past, the head medical examiner designated an associate, but the associate worked, as needed, for county coroners. Going forward, the forensic Pathologists who do autopsies for coroners will be state employees and report to the head medical examiner.

"Then, you have a very clear power to hire and to fire," Fox said. "You have a chief state medical examiner who has very clear supervisory responsibilities over deputy medical examiners." In a deposition, however, Bennett admitted he had continued to do autopsies on children because he had run the matter past his "friend" McGrath. McGrath told him he did not work for the state medical examiner, Bennett said.

Dr. Matthias Okoye, who assisted Dr. Bennett, also has a tainted cloud over his head. In 2007, Okoye was sued by Carla McKinney who ran a State-licensed day care at her Lincoln home. Okoye, who was under contract with Lancaster County, performed the autopsy on a baby who died in McKinney's care for the State. He told law enforcement authorities that the boy died from blunt-force trauma to the head, asphyxia and bleeding on the brain as a result of child abuse, leading Police to arrest McKinney.

A Washington Post report notes that McKinney never abused the baby, and that she had tried in vain to wake the infant from his nap and revive him on Oct. 17, 2007. Paramedics also failed to revive the boy. Two Pathologists hired by McKinney's defense attorney disagreed with Okoye's conclusions and found the infant had died of sudden infant death syndrome. Prosecutors later dropped the charge against McKinney, saying there was not enough evidence to prosecute her. McKinney sued Okoye and his corporation, Nebraska Forensic Medical Services, seeking nearly the scientific and medical evidence available."

A Nebraska judge found that Okoye acted far afield of mere negligence. "A reasonable fact finder could infer that Okoye knew or should have known that the statements he made regarding his autopsy and the findings of said autopsy were false or misleading," Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Michael McCormack wrote in the opinion. Both Pathologists were on the defense team against the Liberian government in the controversial Angel Togba death saga. The government in that case slammed the Pathologists' findings as unconvincing.

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