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Cook County medical examiner reviewing more than 200 cases handled by fired pathologist

Friday, May 25, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Rosemary Sobol

Cook County medical examiner reviewing more than 200 cases handled by fired pathologist



Rosemary Sobol

Chicago Tribune


May 25, 2018, 5:25 PM 




The Cook County medical examiner's office is taking the unusual step of reviewing the entire caseload of a pathologist who was fired the end of last year, so far changing eight findings with nearly 200 cases still to be re-examined.


“They were clerical errors and then there were some errors with his medical findings,’’ medical examiner spokeswoman Becky Schlikerman said of the work by John E. Cavanaugh


In one case, Cavanaugh's finding of a suicide was changed to undetermined because of questions over how the victim suffered a gunshot wound to the head. In another, his finding of undetermined was changed to homicide after the review found evidence of an assault.


In all, the office plans to review all 219 cases handled by Cavanaugh from the time he was hired in January 2017, at an annual salary of $250,000, to when he was fired last November. So far, the office has examined 23 cases and changed findings in eight of them.





The reviews will not require exhumation of bodies, but instead will involve an examination of case files, medical samples, photos and other paper work, Schlikerman said. The entire review is expected to take months.


The Cook County state's attorney's office has been notified because changes in findings could affect disposition of criminal cases. Families are also being contacted.


Errors in Cavanaugh's work had cropped up in the months after he was hired, Schlikerman said. He was demoted from deputy chief medical examiner to assistant medical examiner on July 23, and his salary was lowered to $228,105.


A peer review of his work was conducted last October and raised more red flags, Schlikerman said. Cavanaugh was fired effective Nov. 20 and his termination reported to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.




This is the first time that a pathologist's entire work has been reviewed by the office, Schlikerman said. The review was first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.


Among the findings that have been changed so far is the death of a man found after a small fire broke out in an apartment in the 7900 block of South Greenwood Avenue on Oct. 9, 2017. Cavanaugh said he could not make a conclusive ruling on the cause of death, but the review found evidence of injuries from an assault and his death was ruled a homicide.


In another case, Cavanaugh determined that the death of a 20-year-old South Side man shot in the head last September was a suicide. But the review changed the cause to undetermined.


In a third case, Cavanaugh found that a 2-year-old Humboldt Park boy died a natural death on Feb. 23, 2017, citing "anoxic encephalopathy with bilateral lobar pneumonia." But the review changed the cause to undetermined.




Schlikerman credited the office's internal controls for catching the errors. “Our internal review process caught it and that means it worked."


Twitter @RosemarySobol1

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