219 death cases under review after Chicago pathologist fired; Marion County now reviewing local cases

Photo: Chicago Sun Times
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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — A pathologist who works in the Chicago medical examiner's office was fired after officials say he missed a murder. 13 Investigates has learned that same pathologist also works in the Marion County coroner's office.

Dr. John Cavanaugh was terminated from the Cook County medical examiner's office in November of last year. That medical examiner's office is now reviewing 219 death cases he handled in the 10 months that he worked in their office. The Cook County review is sparking one here in Indianapolis as well.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports a review of one case discovered that a death Cavanaugh ruled as "undetermined" was actually a murder. A peer review of Cavanaugh’s cases, which is a common practice for coroner’s offices, discovered problems with several of his cases. That led to the wider review of all 219 cases. Of the 23 reviews completed so far, eight cases have had a manner or cause of death changed.

Photo: Chicago Sun Times

Cavanaugh currently works for the Marion County coroner's office as a contracted pathologist. He works part-time, and has worked there for 7 years. The Marion County coroner says the Chicago medical examiner's review is now leading them to review his local cases as well.

In a written statement to WTHR, Marion County coroner Dr. Leeandrea Sloan said, "Our office has recently been made aware of the story involving one of our contracted pathologist. We are obtaining additional information regarding his termination and the cases discussed in the story. Our office has a peer review process which allows for case review on homicides and suspicious deaths. While we have not had any problems with him, our Chief Forensic Pathologist will review homicides and other randomly selected cases performed by Dr. Cavanaugh from the past year."

Dr. Cavanaugh's license is current in Indiana. The Cook County medical examiner's office tells WTHR they have reported Dr. Cavanaugh to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations. Cavanaugh was hired as the top deputy pathologist in Cook County in January 2017.

Cavanaugh also worked in at least two other county coroner offices in Indiana. An official with the Vanderburgh County office says it has likely been at least 15 years since Cavanaugh worked there, and at this point, the office is not reviewing any of his cases. More recently, Cavanaugh worked in Lake County. Coroner Merrilee Frey had no comment on Cavanaugh’s work there, or whether the office was planning to review any of his cases.

Cook County (Chicago, Illinois) medical examiner's office response:

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting a review of all of the cases handled by Dr. John Cavanaugh, a forensic pathologist who was terminated from the office effective Nov. 30, 2017.

The review was prompted after a routine quality assurance peer review process flagged errors in cases handled by the former employee. Such reviews are standard operating procedure for the office to ensure the credibility of its findings.

As a Cook County forensic pathologist, he handled 219 cases at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. Of those, 23 cases have been reviewed. Of those cases, the cause and/or manner of eight cases has been changed or edited. The review is ongoing.

The former employee, a medical doctor, has been reported to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations.

Becky Schlikerman

Cook County Coroner’s office

Marion County Coroner’s office response:

Our office has recently been made aware of the story involving one of our contracted pathologist. We are obtaining additional information regarding his termination and the cases discussed in the story. Our office has a peer review process which allows for case review on homicides and suspicious deaths. While have not had any problems with him, our Chief Forensic Pathologist will review homicides and other randomly selected cases performed by Dr. Cavanaugh from the past year.

Right now, we are overwhelmed with a high death rate in short period of time. We have had to call in additional deputy coroners, Pathologists and autopsy assistants to keep up with the pace of deaths, especially homicides.

Respectfully,

Leeandrea Sloan, M.D.

Marion County Coroner

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