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Lawsuit filed against Nueces County, former medical examiner

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Posted at 1:37 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-25 18:21:17-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A lawsuit filed on behalf of 13 families Tuesday claims due to the actions of former Chief Medical Examiner Adel Shaker, Deputy Medical Examiner Sandra Lyden, and Nueces County — some families may never have closure.

As 6 Investigates has previously reported, Lyden was fired in January after she ruled a 27-year-old woman died as a result of a fractured neck on Jan. 3.

A second autopsy, later done by an independent forensic pathologist, found the woman died of natural causes.

Lyden was found to not have a Texas Medical license and was later arrested. Shaker was also arrested and charged with 17 violations of the Texas Occupations Code.

According to the petition and demand for jury trial filed by Gowan Elizondo, LLP and the Law Office of Ralph M. Rodriguez, autopsies conducted by Lyden "are suspect in their conclusion."

"Further, a new autopsy or examination of the body of the decedents can no longer be performed due to the demise or cremation of the bodies," the petition states. "As a result, a reliable conclusion, including the alleged manner and cause of death of the deceased, is no longer ascertainable. Further, the autopsy reports that have been completed are now subject to challenge in subsequent legal proceedings."

The filing states that Nueces County has a duty to provide safe and responsible services and alleges that the County, the Medical Examiner's Office, and Human Resources Department failed in their duty to do so.

"The County knew, or reasonably should have known, that Lyden lacked the lawfully required licensure or permitting to practice medicine in the state of Texas; yet, that notwithstanding, the County issued an offer of employment to Lyden that, upon her acceptance, granted her full privileges to perform dozens of unauthorized autopsies in the County's Medical Examiner's Office on the parents, siblings, and children of these Plaintiffs," the filing states.

Read the plaintiff's original petition and jury demand

Nueces County Attorney Jenny Dorsey said she has not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit. Dorsey also said that she couldn't comment on the suit, because of pending litigation.

Lyden was employed by the ME's Office for just over a month and performed 30 autopsies during that time. Some of those cases included criminal cases.

The suit alleges that bodies were "negligently handled by non-licensed personnel," it also alleges deterioration of bodies and that bodies were "delivered to funeral homes by the County in a mutilated, deformed state without standard remedial measures such as suturing; and death certificates were falsified."

KRIS 6 News anchor Pat Simon spoke with Olivia Fox and Patrick Canel in an exclusive interview in September, about their experience with the Nueces County ME's office after their infant died.

Fox said she will never forget the image of the gash across her son's entire forehead: The child's head was cut open from ear to ear.

It was not stitched back up.

"My son was disfigured when we got him from him passing away," Canel said.

And a 6 Investigates report by Taylor Alanis in March revealed Shaker offered to change the findings of an autopsy in order to avoid a homicide investigation.

According to a report submitted by a Corpus Christi Police Lieutenant, that officer questioned Shaker's assertation that a 55-year-old male had died of a shotgun wound.

“Dr. Shaker stated he had removed a projectile from <redacted> during the autopsy and believed the death to be a result of a shotgun wound,” the report states. “However, Dr. Shaker advised that he was tired and would be willing to change the autopsy findings to natural causes to avoid a homicide investigation.”

The lieutenant states he told Shaker he was only questioning the type of weapon used, and not the assertion that the death was a homicide, telling Shaker “if Corpus Christi Police were going to investigate the 'suspicious death' it is very important we know what type of firearm was potentially used.”

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