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6 Investigates: Chief ME's attorney speaks about investigation

Important oversight puts Nueces ME's office, autopsies at risk
Dr. Adel Shaker.png
Nueces County medical examiner's office.jpg
Posted at 3:47 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 19:55:58-05

UPDATE (5:57 p.m. Thursday): On Wednesday, several county commissioners told KRIS 6 about their intentions to strip Shaker of his administrative duties after no record was found of him taking an oath of office. According to Texas Penal Code, that would mean Shaker would not have the authority to be a chief medical examiner in Nueces County or run the ME's office, calling into question countless autopsies he’s performed or supervised.

Meanwhile, Shaker's attorney Chris Gale says Shaker has an oath.

“I am going to relay to you that I’m looking at his oath of office that’s actually in written form and was administered and notarized back in 2014,” he said.

Gale provided us with the document that was notarized in 2014, but it doesn’t show a title or position. Additionally, documents show Shaker wasn't hired until 2019, and assumed the position of chief medical examiner after former Chief ME Dr. Ray Fernandez retired in 2020.

Gale says county commissioners have not asked his client to step down from his position or their intentions to. He says Shaker continues to be the chief medical examiner and is running his office business as usual.

— Taylor Alanis, KRIS 6 News anchor/multimedia journalist

UPDATE (5:31 p.m. Wednesday): KRIS 6 News has a clarification. We were told by a Nueces County commissioner that Dr. Adel Shaker has been relieved of his administrative duties. The commissioner later clarified his statement, saying Shaker and his attorney are consulting with county counsel about Shaker's future at the ME's office.

UPDATE (5:24 p.m. Wednesday): Nueces County Commissioners Court released a statement Wednesday evening stating that, while now-former deputy chief medical examiner Sandra Lyden did hold a Florida medical license, she did not have one in Texas.
"The court also confirmed that Dr. Lyden was discharged for good cause when she was unable to produce a temporary Texas license which she claimed to have received. The Court has no comments relating to criminal allegations against Dr. Lyden."

The statement also said the court manager has been tasked with leading a national recruiting firm to vet qualified candidates for open positions at the ME's office.

UPDATE (5:06 p.m. Wednesday): KRIS 6 News has learned Dr. Adel Shaker has been relieved of his administrative duties.

Commissioners Court statement.jpg

Nueces County Medical Examiner Dr. Adel Shaker's jurisdiction may not be valid, calling into question the legality of at least hundreds of autopsies performed by the medical examiner's office since 2020, and the medical examiner's office itself.

"This would be a disaster for any county and the criminal justice system in that county,” said medical-examiner watchdog and consultant David Fisher.

KRIS 6 News reported Friday that Nueces County Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Sandra Lyden was under investigation and fired for reportedly performing autopsies without a valid Texas permit or medical license after ruling a local woman died as the result of blunt-force trauma.

Lyden termination letter.jpg

Lyden found the woman had broken two bones in her neck, and called the death a homicide. A second opinion by an outside pathologist disputes that finding, stating the woman died of natural causes.

Shaker is on record as having witnessed the autopsy, and agreeing with Lyden's determination.

Further investigation into this story has found that, legally, Shaker's supervision and standing at the medical examiner's office is invalid because he never took an oath of office to become Nueces County's chief medical examiner after his predecessor Dr. Ray Fernandez retired in 2020.

Fernandez, who took the oath when he became chief medical examiner in 2003, was the county's chief ME for 17 years. Medical examiners traditionally take the oath multiple times during their terms, but no record can be found of Shaker's, which makes Fernandez's still valid.

“The commissioners' court had no constitutional authority to appoint Shaker chief medical examiner, the reason being is that Ray Fernandez was still there as chief medical examiner,” Fisher said.

Dr. Ray Fernandez oath 2011.pdf

KRIS 6 News has reached out to Shaker's attorney Chris Gale, who told us he was in the process of being apprised on the case. Nueces County commissioners entered into executive session Wednesday afternoon and are unavailable for comment.

Prior to 1965, county justices of the peace performed autopsies. According to Fisher, in 1965 the Texas attorney general’s office then decided that if a county establishes an ME's office and appoints an eligible medical examiner who takes the oath, the office could be legally binding. However, if any of those steps is not taken, authority reverts back to the justices of the peace. Nueces County currently has nine justices of the peace.

In order to create and operate a legally binding medical examiner's office, according to Article 49, Subchapter B of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, it must have a physician who is fully licensed in Texas or one who is in the process of being fully licensed in the state, at its helm. The doctor also must have experience in pathology, toxicology and/or histology.

Fernandez, who still helps out on a part-time basis, said Shaker is a board-certified pathologist and meets those qualifications.

"They're pretty lucky to have him with the experience he does," Fernandez told KRIS 6 News.

Ray Fernandez anti-bribery oath.jpg

Shaker's experience isn't what's being called into question, however.

The issue comes in the way the law is written which establishes medical examiner's offices. The office's authority stems from the chief medical examiner's license and expertise, so until the medical examiner takes the oath and lends his license to it, its findings can be ruled to be not legally binding in court.

“This is not just a problem for Nueces County," Fisher said. "It’s a problem for 17 surrounding counties that have been sending their autopsies to Nueces County. All of those counties likewise are void, and all of the monies that those counties paid for those autopsies have to be returned by Nueces County.”