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The parents of a prison inmate who died during a firefighter training program are reportedly suing Stanislaus County located in NorCal and its forensic pathologist over what they called a “sham autopsy.” The lawsuit recently filed in federal court alleges there is evidence that their son was suffering from a heat-related illness but the autopsy report by Dr. Sung-ook Baik listed his death as natural, due to an undiagnosed heart condition. The family first sued the counties of Stanislaus and Tuolumne for wrongful death in 2019.
At the end of an arduous two and a half hours of physical fitness testing at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown back in 2018, 26-year-old Jacorey Shaw suddenly collapsed. Having reportedly no health issues, he was pronounced dead a little over an hour later. The attorney for Shaw’s parents reportedly said there was both negligence and a cover up conspiracy involved in Jacorey’s death investigation.
Shaw was training to join one the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s 35 fire camps, where inmates volunteer to help fight fires and respond to other disasters, as well as participate in conservation programs. The CDCR operates the program in cooperation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Shaw was reportedly serving time for a drug-related offense and was five years into a nine-year sentence for second-degree robbery and attempted second-degree robbery, both while armed with a firearm. Shaw transferred to Sierra Conservation Center two months before his death.
The family is also suing the then-Sheriff Adam Christianson and several deputies, Tuolumne County, its sheriff and several of its deputies, Dr. Baik, and individuals employed by the CDCR. However, the CDCR is not a defendant because the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits federal courts from hearing certain lawsuits against states.
The new lawsuit filed this past Apr. names individuals involved in the investigation and alleges conspiracy to violate civil rights; supervisory liability of civil rights; municipal liability based on unconstitutional failure to train; and denial of medical care and failure to protect.
The family’s lawyer reportedly said that new information came out in Mar. during deposition hearings with Baik and the training coach for the fitness testing of the firefighter program. Dennis Jordan Curasi, the coach, testified in a deposition that Shaw was exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion and had asked for water but never got any. The lawsuit alleges that supervisors at Sierra Conservation Center ordered employees like Curasi to “falsify, alter, and fabricate documents.”
The attorney reportedly said that through discovery, he obtained video from the prison showing events after Shaw collapsed but not before leading him to believe the video of the day’s training and Shaw’s medical emergency was deliberately destroyed. Because of this, he had a medical examiner from Michigan review Baik’s autopsy report and related documents.
“There are numerous autopsy findings that are grossly misinterpreted and there are many opinions and conclusions that are without scientific basis,” the medical examiner reportedly wrote in his review. “There are numerous deficiencies with this death investigation and autopsy which led to erroneous conclusions.”
He also said Baik performed the autopsy on Shaw without knowing all the circumstances of his death like the temperature that day — which the lawsuit alleges was well over 90 degrees. According to the medical examiner, Baik neglected to test Shaw’s ocular fluid for electrolytes or make note of whether he had any urine in his bladder, both of which would provide indications of dehydration. He also noted that Shaw had an enlarged heart and left ventricle, which Baik didn’t take any tissue of for microscopic analysis.
The lawsuit also alleges a lieutenant at the prison repeatedly referenced a “possible heart condition ” in his description of a cause of Shaw’s death when preparing documents for a California Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigator.
“Jacorey’s death was far from an accident, it was due to a complete disregard of established safety protocols that would have saved his life,” the family’s attorney reportedly said in an email. “Not only did those responsible for his well-being allow him to die, they then conspired to conceal his true cause of death in order to absolve themselves of their moral and legal responsibilities.”