Maryland officials are launching an investigation into reports regarding death in police custody that were handled by former Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David Fowler, just days after his testimony in defense of former police officer Derek Chauvin drew criticism and calls for a review of his work.
“We agree that it is appropriate for independent experts to review reports issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) regarding deaths in custody,” said Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh on Friday in response to calls for an inquiry. “We are already in conversations with the Governor’s Office about the need for such a review, and have offered to coordinate it.”
Coombs’ statement was first reported by the Baltimore Sun.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), told the Washington Post that the state plans to begin quickly working to identify independent experts who can serve on a work group to review cases under Fowler’s leadership.
Fowler’s tenure as Maryland’s chief medical examiner spanned 17 years, and concluded in 2019. He served as a key witness in the trial for Chauvin, a former Minneapolis officer, who was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd by a jury Tuesday.
Fowler’s testimony had challenged the medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Floyd last year. Fowler testified that Floyd’s death was “undetermined” and not a homicide in spite of video evidence that shows Chauvin bearing down on a gasping Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Days after the verdict, Fowler said in a statement Friday to the Post that in the Chauvin case his “opinion was formulated after the collaboration of thirteen other highly experienced colleagues in multiple disciplines.”
The attorney general’s review gained further urgency this week after D.C.’s former chief medical examiner Roger Mitchell, wrote an open letter signed by more than 400 doctors around the country that said Fowler’s “baseless” testimony had “revealed obvious bias.”
“We believe the unsubstantiated opinion that carbon monoxide exposure may have contributed to the death of George Floyd is far outside that standard and is grounds for an immediate investigation into the practices of the physician as well as the practice of the Maryland State Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) while under his leadership,” the letter said, calling for an inquiry.
The Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Maryland has said it will cooperate with any investigation.
Fowler is also notably facing a lawsuit that alleges striking similarity to Floyd’s death in the 2018 case of Anton Black, a teenage college student who died after an encounter with a local police officer who responded to a call of a possible kidnapping on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
According to the Post, Fowler is being represented in that case by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office who has moved to dismiss it.
Fowler reportedly signed a report ruling that Black’s death was accidental and asserting that “no evidence was found that restraint by law enforcement directly caused or significantly caused or significantly contributed” to his death, the Post noted.
Coombs said that Frosh has taken steps “to wall off” those in his office who are representing the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, including Dr. Fowler, from those who might be involved in any review of OCME reports.