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Pierce County family sues medical examiner, demands change to son's death determination

Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office
Parker Miles Blohm
Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office

Pierce County’s chief medical examiner is facing a new complaint, this time in court. The family of a 16-year-old Puyallup boy, whose death was ruled a suicide after he fell from a highway overpass, is seeking a change to the teen’s death certificate.

Michael Gish filed the petition with Pierce County Superior Court on Wednesday, asking the judge to review Medical Examiner Thomas Clark’s determination of his son’s death.

Clark ruled that Jordon Gish died by suicide in July 2017. The boy’s father says the death was an accident, and labeling it a suicide can affect benefit claims.

According to records obtained by KNKX Public Radio, a Puyallup police officer reported that Jordon Gish was with a friend at the bridge near the Riverwalk Trail and North Meridian just before 5 a.m. on July 6, 2017. The officer initially said, based on an eyewitness account, that Gish was looking over the barrier of the overpass and leaned too far forward, causing him to fall about 40 feet below. Later, the witness told police Gish ran toward the edge and fell without looking. Clark cited the inconsistencies from the witness, among other factors, when determining Gish’s death was self inflicted.   

Gish’s death is one of several cases that family members have disputed since a whistleblower came forward to accuse Clark of violating a long list of professional standards. Another case, in which Clark’s death determination resulted in a dropped murder charge, is under review by the Pierce County prosecutor. Clark, through his attorney, has denied the allegations.

Associate Medical Examiner Megan Quinn, who is second-in-command in the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office, filed two complaints against Clark in January — one of them is under investigation by the state Medical Commission. She has since been placed on administrative leave, an action she claims is retaliatory.

Pierce County denies the retaliation claim, and is currently investigating both Quinn and Clark; the chief medical examiner remains on the job.

“We offer our condolences to the Gish family on the loss of their son,” county spokeswoman Libby Catalinich said in an email Friday. “While the review process may be difficult, we hope it will bring some measure of peace.”

Quinn’s attorney, Joan Mell, also is representing the Gish family.

Mell said the case highlights the importance of a medical examiner's determinations to surviving family. 

"The fact that he’s dealing with dead people doesn’t make it any less of an impact," Mell said. "It means a lot to Michael Gish, the dad who knows his son didn’t commit suicide. I think it means doing right by his son, is what it comes down to.”

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