Friday, September 8, 2017
Ninth Circuit Reinstates Action Against Medical Examiner
Says a Jury Could Find Liability Based on Labeling a Death a ‘Homicide,’ Resulting In a Woman Being Charged With the Murder of Her Husband
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S., Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday revived an action against a deputy medical examiner by a woman who was charged with the alleged murder of her 80-year-old husband based on the doctor’s proclamation that the cause of death was “homicide.”
The woman, Lois Goodman, was later exonerated.
Senior Judge Harry Pregerson and Judges Mary M. Schoeder and Mary H. Murguia were in agreement that the District Court Judge John A. Kronstadt erred in granting summary judgment to Dr. Yulai Wang, but was correct in finding that no cause of action existed against the Los Angeles Police Department.
Pregerson dissented from the majority’s conclusion that summary judgment was correctly awarded to four individual LAPD detectives based on qualified immunity.
Alan Goodman’s April 17, 2012 death was initially attributed to a head injury incurred in a fall on a staircase, and Lois Goodman’s account of coming home and finding blood on the stairs and her husband dead in the bedroom was accepted by police. However, an April 24 autopsy, performed by Wang, revealed 17 small cut marks on the body which were deemed “inconsistent with a fall.”
Wang listed the cause of death as “pending investigation,” but on Aug. 7, changed it to “homicide.”
New York Arrest
Lois Goodman, then 70, was arrested Aug. 21, 2012, in New York. She was there to referee the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
One of the two LAPD detectives who made the arrest, David Peteque, appeared the next morning on “Good Morning, America” to talk about the case.
Subsequently, LAPD lab tests showed that Lois Goodman’s DNA was not on the coffee mug that was believed to have been the murder weapon; the suspect passed a polygraph test; and two pathologists hired by the District Attorney’s Office concluded that the death was the result of an accident.
The District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges.
In the complaint for unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution, it was alleged that police “knew or should have known that it was physically impossible for Mrs. Goodman to kill her husband with a coffee mug” and “knew that it would have been physically impossible for Mrs. Goodman to have carried her 180-pound husband from the stairway to their bedroom.”
Falsifying Autopsy Report
The opinion, in reversing the summary judgment in favor of Wang, says that “[i]n the light most favorable to Goodman, a reasonable jury could find that Dr. Wang recklessly or intentionally falsified an autopsy report when he changed Alan’s cause of death from ‘pending investigation’ to ‘homicide’.”
It says that Wang failed to follow standards promulgated by the National Association of Medical Examiners “requiring a coroner to provide a reason for the change in cause of death” and omitted evidence that the decedent’s “injury was consistent with an accidental fall.”
The opinion notes that both pathologists hired by the District Attorney’s Office concluded there was no homicide and one opined that Wang’s report was “defective and far outside recommended national guidelines for quality of work.”
In dissenting as to affirmance of summary judgment in favor of the detectives, Pregerson said that incomplete information was presented to the judge who issued the arrest warrant. The request for extradition was unnecessary, he charged, because at the time the two LAPD detectives, Peteque and Jeffrey Briscoe, left for New York, Lois Goodman was still in Los Angeles.
“In fact,” Pregerson wrote, “Mrs. Goodman’s flight departed 10 hours after the officers’ flight.”
Although the judge was told of the prospect that Lois Goodman would flee to Canada, Pregerson noted her passport had expired in 1997. He added:
“Mrs. Goodman claims that on August 10, 2012, her attorney called Detective Peteque to inform him of her upcoming travel plans. Mrs. Goodman also claims that, over the course of the investigation, she repeatedly offered to surrender herself in the event that the LAPD decided to arrest her.”
Pregerson said of her ordeal:
“[O]n the morning of August 21, Detectives Briscoe and Peteque publicly arrested Mrs. Goodman as she left her Manhattan hotel, clad in her U.S. Open umpire’s uniform.
“A horde of news media captured Mrs. Goodman’s arrest. Reporters photographed and videotaped officers handcuffing Mrs. Goodman and forcibly leading her to a police car….
“After her arrest, the officers locked Mrs. Goodman up for two nights in Rikers Island, a New York City jail renowned for its deep-seated culture of gruesome violence.
“Detectives Briscoe and Peteque then flew Mrs. Goodman to Los Angeles. She remained m handcuffs the entire flight. Mrs. Goodman spent the next two weeks at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California. Her family was only able to post bail after a judge reduced the original bail amount of $1,000,000 to $500,000.”
Pregerson went on to declare:
“Nothing in the record indicates that the LAPD is conducting further investigation into Mr. Goodman’s death. But, because the charges against Mrs. Goodman were dismissed without prejudice, this case continues to plague her.
“In my view, no reasonable officer could have believed there was probable cause to arrest Mrs. Goodman for murder. I cannot join in holding Detectives Briscoe, Peteque, [Nick] Pikor, and [Pamela] Pitcher unaccountable for their actions. Respectfully, I dissent from the decision to grant these officers qualified immunity.”
The case is Goodman v. City of Los Angeles Police Department, No. 15-55757.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company