A self-described whistleblower who once worked for the N.C. medical examiner’s office got his first day in court Wednesday.
Kevin Gerity, who used to help pathologists with autopsies, contends he was forced to retire in 2013 after cooperating with an investigation into mishandled murder evidence.
The investigation stemmed from the 2011 autopsy of Terrell Boykin, a Cumberland County homicide victim. Gerity said he found a bullet lying near the autopsy table following the examination and gave it to Dr. Clay Nichols, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy.
But Nichols kept the bullet in a desk drawer and never turned it over to detectives. His final autopsy report read “no bullet is recovered.”
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Gerity was forced to quit more than two years later, after the State Bureau of Investigation looked into Nichols’ handling of the evidence. Nichols was fired in November 2013.
At a hearing that began Wednesday, Gerity’s attorney, Michael C. Byrne, told Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison that the state threatened to fire his client because he cooperated with the SBI probe. The probe was initiated by an anonymous tip.
Dr. Deborah Radisch, North Carolina’s chief medical examiner, testified that she believed Gerity was the source of the SBI tip.
She also testified that Gerity had good job performance reviews in the years before his departure.
Officials with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services – which oversees the medical examiner’s office – said they recommended that Gerity be fired for unacceptable conduct and unsatisfactory job performance.
They said Gerity should not have collected the bullet himself before turning it over to Nichols, who had returned to his office following the autopsy. Instead, they said, Gerity should have called Nichols back to the autopsy suite to collect the evidence.
By turning over the evidence, Gerity “created an environment where there was distrust between pathologist and staff,” testified Lou Turner, a DHHS official who oversees the state medical examiner’s office.
‘Office in jeopardy’
Byrne, however, said that collecting evidence was in Gerity’s job description. He also asked Turner what was a bigger concern – creating a disruptive work environment or dispensing incorrect autopsy reports.
“The reports,” Turner said.
She also acknowledged that top officials within the medical examiner’s office were aware of Gerity’s actions in 2011.
Shortly after finding the bullet, Gerity met with Radisch and told her of the mishandled evidence. Months later, he put his concerns in writing.
“Releasing a report that we know is inaccurate, not only puts me in a precarious position personally, but also puts this entire office in jeopardy,” Gerity wrote in his letter to Radish.
Radisch said Wednesday that she never followed up with Gerity about his concerns.
“Did you actually do anything?” Byrne asked.
“Not about this, no,” she said.
It wasn’t until late 2013 – following the SBI probe, a DHHS investigation and an Observer story about the mishandled evidence – that state officials recommended Gerity be fired.
If his suit is successful, Gerity could be reinstated, earn back pay, have his benefits restored and be paid for damages.
The whistleblower law protects state employees from intimidation and retaliation when they report on “matters of public concern.”