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Shaker colleagues, coworkers questioned his work as far back as 2020

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 23:23:13-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — KRIS 6 Investigates has been investigating Nueces County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Adel Shaker for a few months, however, allegations of his misconduct date back a year and a half.

Questions about Shaker's procedures reportedly made their way into the inboxes of Nueces County commissioners and judge Barbara Canales as far back as 2020 — the same year in which Texas Rangers opened an investigation into Shaker.

Fort Bend County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Steven Pustlinik was hired by the family of a man who hanged himself in the Port Aransas Jail in May 2014.

"A fraudulent autopsy was done," he said during while being interviewed by Rangers during their investigation in 2020.

That interview was obtained by KRIS 6 News, and is part of the Nueces County District Attorney's Office investigation into the ME's office. It is part of the official evidence records known legally as a Michael Morton file.

"The thyroid cartilage was there and all of the strap muscles and the thyroid gland were still attached to it," Pustlinik said. "The strap muscles were unexamined; they were still in their normal anatomic position. They hadn't been dissected off. They haven't been removed."

Pustlinik says if Shaker had performed a complete autopsy then those parts of the body would have been dissected.

Shaker's attorney Chris Gale said there's a explanation for this.

"They were taken out, they were put back into the body after being weighed, but they were not un-dissected at the time," he said.

Pustlinik wasn't the only one to share concerns with the Rangers.

"My first memories of me being concerned about things is when I would see that Dr. Shaker would write down weights of organs and we would not even pull them out," said Bernardo Lopez, a former autopsy tech supervisor at the Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office.

The Rangers interviewed Lopez in February 2021. He told them there were at least 10 times Shaker wrote down weights for organs that were not removed from bodies.

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"What's the benefit from claiming the weight of an organ yet not removing an weighing it?" the Ranger asked.

"I don't see any benefit from it other than possibly expediting, which is something that he tries to do often," Lopez replied during the interview.

Former deputy chief medical examiner Danika Adams wrote to commissioners and Canales four months earlier -- shortly after being fired at the end of her probationary period.

In that email, she detailed concerns with the office, but her concerns weren't an isolated instance: That same month, the DA's office told Canales and the county attorney via email that Shaker was under investigation.

When asked about these emails, only pct. 4 commissioner Brent Chesney and pct. 2 commissioner Joe A. Gonzalez responded. Pct. 1 commissioner Robert Hernandez was not in office in 2020.

Chesney said he doesn't remember Adams' email, and said he wasn't told about an investigation at the time.

Gonzalez did not say whether he received the email, but said he was unaware of the DA's office investigation until KRIS 6 News showed him the email.

MORE: Nueces County Chief Medical Examiner Adel Shaker submits letter of retirement
MORE: Nueces County deputy chief medical examiner accused of practicing without a license

Texas State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa said that the breakdown of accountability is because different counties play by different rules.

"The challenge is this: We do not have any standards for medical examiners statewide, other than be a licensed physician," he said.

He said, currently, Harris County is the only county required by the state of Texas to have a medical examiner, and thinks it's time for a legislative change.

"An issue we need to look into, probably, in this next session — whether or not we need to have much stricter standards and experience in requirements for being a medical examiner," Hinojosa said.

KRIS 6 Investigates spoke to some commissioners off-camera, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. They said they had every intention of firing Shaker, but were advised if they did, they could be sued.

Shaker has filed a Family Medical Leave Act claim, they said, stemming from extreme stress. However, he is still working. KRIS 6 News has also learned that Shaker will receive full retirement benefits as of May 1.

The commissioners court took steps to hire a new chief medical examiner on Wednesday. The offer states Dr. Scott Luzi could begin as soon as May 3, if he accepts.

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