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Whistleblower placed on leave after filing complaint against medical examiner

medical examiner van
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press

Pierce County officials have accused an employee of "possible misconduct" a month after she filed a whistleblower complaint against her boss, the medical examiner.

Megan Quinn, the county's associate medical examiner, was placed on paid leave Thursday as the county investigates "a potential conflict of interest," "insubordination," and "disclosure of confidential information," among other charges, a Pierce County spokeswoman said. The spokeswoman declined to provide details of the complaint. 

In January, Quinn filed a whisteblower complaint against the medical examiner, Thomas Clark, accusing him of mishandling death investigations and creating a toxic work environment. She followed it days later with a similar complaint with the state Department of Health.

Quinn's attorney called the county's actions "retaliation" against an employee for speaking out. 

"How dare Pierce County impugn the reputation of somebody who had the courage to come forward knowing the vindictiveness of Dr. Clark," said Joan Mell, the attorney. "He has been left in place and the county has chosen to back him and publicly disparage her. It’s unforgivable."

Quinn, in her complaint with the county, said Clark came to hasty and careless conclusions about how people died. She cited several cases, including one in which Clark declared an infant's death "accidential" when Quinn believed it warranted more investigation because of evidence of trauma to the body and concerns expressed by pediatricians. 

Quinn also said Clark had a "vindictive nature" and exhibited "bullying behavior" toward his staff, and that he dismissed the opioid epidemic as "not real."

Clark's attorney, Jack Connelly, called the allegations "false" and "vindictive" earlier this month.

Pierce County is continuing to investigate Quinn's complaint against Clark, said county spokeswoman Libby Catalinich. She said the county has brought in outside investigators to look into the accusations against both Clark and Quinn.

The two employees had been working alternating schedules at the medical examiner's office since Quinn filed her complaint. Quinn will remain out of work through March 29, Catalinich said, unless the investigation into her conduct is completed sooner.

UPDATE, Feb. 25: Megan Quinn's attorney, Joan Mell, filed a retaliation complaint against Pierce County officials Thursday, according to a letter obtained by KNKX Public Radio. Read more about this development here

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.