Panel: Boot camp case examiner negligent

Saying he files "canned" autopsy reports, the state orders Bay County's medical examiner to pay for his own supervision.

Published August 10, 2006

JUPITER - An embattled medical examiner, who performed a disputed autopsy on a teenager who died after a confrontation with guards at a boot camp, should be placed on supervised probation for the remaining 10 months of his contract, a state commission recommended Wednesday.

A three-member probable cause panel of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that Bay County Medical Examiner Charles Siebert was negligent in performing at least 35 of 698 autopsies.

The panel recommended suspension followed by probation, but the full commission voted to order Siebert to retain and pay for his own supervisor until his contract expires June 27, finding that his work was negligent and he failed "to perform the duties required of a medical examiner."

Siebert can accept the punishment or appeal. He will remain in his $180,000-a-year position.

Criticism of Siebert surfaced after he performed an autopsy on 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died Jan. 6, a day after being roughed up by guards at a Panama City boot camp for juvenile offenders.

Siebert ruled the death was caused by complications from sickle cell trait, a genetic blood disorder, and not from injuries sustained in the confrontation.

After an outcry from Anderson's family, the body was exhumed and a new autopsy by another doctor found Anderson died of suffocation.

Attorney General Charlie Crist in April called for an investigation into Siebert's past autopsies. The Anderson case, which is still under investigation, was not included in the panel's review.

Most of the alleged negligence came from Siebert's use of "canned" autopsy reports that describe victims in much the same manner, using the same terminology to detail conditions of organs and other body parts, the panel found. The commission said it appeared Siebert used a standard template for his reports, not adjusting them to individual cases.

Among the most egregious errors was a case in which Siebert noted the presence of a "prostate gland and testes" - male organs - on the body of a young girl.

Siebert defended his cases, saying he has never used a template.

"There's only so many ways you can describe what a spleen looks like," said Siebert, who did not speak during the commission meeting.

He said it would be difficult to pay for an independent supervisor to review all his work. "If somebody has to be there every day, then there's no way I can do that," he said. "I'd just have to give up."

Dr. Stephen Nelson, the commission chairman, noted "there was a consistent pattern of brief autopsy reports" that "lacked sufficient descriptions."

"The underlying problem is the use of a template and not looking through and correcting it. ... All his reports look the same, and that's not possible," added Dr. Jon Thogmartin, another member.

Anderson's family has sued the state Juvenile Justice Department and the Bay County Sheriff's Office, which ran the boot camp, seeking more than $40-million in damages.

The military-style boot camp system was formally dismantled in May under a bill signed by Gov. Jeb Bush.