A former employee of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in San Francisco claims he was fired after refusing to alter the autopsy report of late Public Defender Jeff Adachi at the request of the City Administrator. The city says that the allegations made by this employee in a new lawsuit are "complete fiction," but the case highlights the continuing drama over how Adachi's cause and circumstances of death were publicized nearly 18 months ago.
Christopher Wirowek was the operators director for the Medical Examiner’s Office when he claims he was given an order by City Administrator Naomi Kelly to edit Adachi's autopsy report in March 2019, prior to its public release. He was later fired from his post, and as KPIX reports, he filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court this week claiming that his refusal to alter the report led to his wrongful termination.
As you may recall, Adachi died unexpectedly in February 2019 at the age of 59 in a North Beach apartment where he was spending the night with a woman who was not his wife. There was immediate drama in the case when a police report detailing sordid details — including the presence of drugs and alcohol bottles in the apartment — was leaked to the media. And that drama was compounded when the SFPD engaged in illegal practices to track down the source of the leak, amid political pressure from city officials — the backdrop being the years-long enmity between Adachi and the police department, who were often at odds in court.
Separate from the police report was the Medical Examiner's report, which was released in March 2019, and which revealed that Adachi had likely died from the combined effects of alcohol and cocaine on his already weakened heart. That was followed by a bizarre pushback from the Public Defender's Office, in which they sought an independent expert's opinion that the amount of cocaine and booze in Adachi's system wasn't sufficient to cause his death, and that the primary cause should have been listed as a heart condition.
In the background, apparently, was this conflict involving Wirowek — whom, as the Chronicle reports, was not especially well liked by Adachi prior to his death. Wirowek and his attorney, Tanya Gomerman, have not revealed which details in the autopsy report Ms. Kelly allegedly wanted changed, but Gomerman told KPIX that Wirowek is "anxious to elaborate publicly when the time is right."
Kelly's office issued a statement saying that "The lawsuit’s allegations regarding the city administrator are complete fiction." A KPIX source at City Hall further says that while Ms. Kelly visited the Medical Examiner's Office at the time, the claims being made could not be true because "pathologists had already signed the paperwork and there would have been no way to change" the report.
In its August 2019 blog post about the independent experts' differing opinion on Adachi's cause of death, the Public Defender's Officer referred to the Medical Examiner's Office as "dysfunctional and untrustworthy." It pointed out the conflict betweek Wirowek and Adachi, and to Adachi's recommendation that Wirowek be fired over a misstatement regarding the office's accreditation status, as reasons for suspicion about the accuracy of the autopsy report.
Wirowek was placed on administrative leave in August 2019, and later terminated.