Solano officials slammed for silence on autopsy concerns

Solano officials slammed for silence on autopsy concerns

By Henry K. Lee | San Francisco Chronicle

A judge blasted Solano County prosecutors and sheriff’s officials for failing to immediately share their concerns about the competence of a forensic pathologist who led autopsies in the county until her recent retirement.

Despite the blistering ruling, though, Solano County Superior Court Judge Daniel Healydeclined a defense motion to dismiss a murder case.

In a 37-page ruling Monday, Healy excoriated the offices of the district attorney and sheriff-coroner for not sharing misgivings about Dr.Susan Hogan to defense attorneys in several murder cases, and for failing to turn over documents pertaining to an internal sheriff’s investigation of the doctor.

“Their abject failure to adequately handle and disclose these materials is troubling, and their public effort to blame each other for what was a joint obligation is nothing short of disgraceful,” Healy wrote.

The judge said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeff Kauffman had provided “false” testimony at an evidentiary hearing when he said a county lawyer had told him it wasn’t necessary to disclose details of the Hogan investigation to defense attorneys.

District Attorney Donald du Bain had appropriately called for a meeting with prosecutors and sheriff’s officials to discuss Hogan after the investigation ended, Healy said.

However, “After this initial burst of rationality, the prosecution and sheriff completely failed to act for the next four months, taking no meaningful action regarding the Hogan report materials,” the judge wrote.

Reached late Monday, du Bain said, “I cannot comment on a pending case without violating my ethical duties as a prosecutor.”

Sheriff’s officials have declined to comment. Hogan and her attorney have not responded to requests for comment.

The judge said prosecutors had withheld notes and audio recordings of an autopsy conducted by Hogan on Jennifer Brastow, who was killed in Vallejo in August 2012. But Healy declined to dismiss a murder case against the victim’s ex-boyfriend, Michael Daniels.

The judge noted that Vallejo police and prosecutors – who believe Daniels tied Brastow up and suffocated her with a sock – sought unsuccessfully to change Hogan’s findings in the case when they met with her in January 2013.

Hogan determined that Brastow died of asphyxiation but said it was possible she choked to death on her vomit because she was drunk.

Although the meeting could have been construed as an “effort to intimidate” Hogan, the judge said he accepted the doctor’s position that she hadn’t been improperly influenced.

But Healy said prosecutor Andrew Ganz had failed to disclose exculpatory material, or evidence that could help the defense, by not divulging details of that meeting. Ganz’s belief that he didn’t need to do so “suggests a prosecutorial attitude either incapable of or disinterested in maintaining the minimum ethical standards that all prosecutors are sworn to uphold,” the judge wrote.

Hogan retired last year as those around her expressed concern about her abilities. Last month, Healy authorized the release of her personnel records to prosecutors and defense attorneys in homicide cases.

Public Defender Lesli Caldwell said Tuesday, “The court’s decision confirms the fact that the prosecutor’s office has failed to disclose material and exculpatory evidence to the defense. We are disappointed that the court did not dismiss the case outright.”

Caldwell said the ruling doesn’t apply to other homicide cases but noted, “We will continue to raise this issue to protect our clients’ rights.”

Henry K. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: hlee@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @henryklee



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