Officials with the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services are responding to claims of inaccuracies made in the Medical Examiner's autopsy report on Grace Denk, who died in January in an officer-involved shooting in Wilmington.
According to a news release from District Attorney Ben David and Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous, the report released by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Denk's death contains several inaccuracies that are inconsistent with the findings of the investigation of both the WPD and the SBI.
"Her ultimate conclusion that the gunshot wound to Ms. Denk's chest was self-inflicted is her opinion, and it's something that's at odds with the video tape evidence, and the physical evidence, and the testimonial evidence from officers and lay witnesses," David said.
The District Attorney says that he stands by the results of the initial investigation and the statements made during the March press conference.
According to David, he's reached out to Chief Medical Examiner Deborah Radisch to express concerns of the inaccuracies in the report. "Forensic evidence needs to be rigorously tested and this incident underscores the need for scrutiny," said David. "Nothing is more important in the pursuit of the truth than the integrity of physical evidence. Our goal is for every investigation to receive a thorough analysis by the professionals charged to review it. We will continue to work with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to ensure that any inaccuracies are addressed in this case."
Ben David says he's heard reports from other parts of the state that this is not the first inaccurate report to come from the Medical Examiner's office.
He says in many cases involving loss of life, the Medical Examiners report is the most critical piece of evidence prosecutors have, and significant inaccuracies cannot be tolerated.
"Why we care is because dead people don't speak, and we have to speak for them, and we trust that medical examiners are speaking with rigorous science behind them, and if it's inaccurate, then in calls into question the very reason that we are in court," David said.
Wect.com received the following response from DHHS: "North Carolina medical examiners and forensic pathologists work closely with local officials to ensure that a thorough death investigation is conducted," Kevin Howell, DHHS Spokesperson said in an email statement. "We encourage open dialogue to obtain all relevant information in every case. Dr. Deborah Radisch, the state's Chief Medical Examiner, has reached out to the District Attorney and local law enforcement to determine whether any additional information is available and has not been provided."
Katy Parker, attorney for the Denk family, said the medical report has loved ones up in arms as they try cope with the startling news. Denk said this report is just further proof change is needed in the state medical examiner's office. Now she is thinking about taking action.
"First of all I think our main goal is to get this report corrected, and then I think we'll look and see if there's a complaint we can file with the Chief Medical Examiner's Office."
Parker said the report is downright wrong. She explained that after all Denk's family has been through, this is just throwing more salt on the wound.
"I had to call Grace's mother yesterday afternoon when I found out about this report and let her know not only has she lost her youngest child, but there's an autopsy report out there that suggests that she shot herself which we know to be untrue," said Parker.
In January, Wilmington Police responded to a domestic dispute between a male and female near Sunglow Drive and Tabor Lane, off of North Kerr Avenue.
When officers arrived on scene, they found Denk, 21, seated in the driver's seat of a silver vehicle. Moments later, shots were fired.
Denk was taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center where she was later pronounced dead.
Ben David and Chief Ralph Evangelous held a joint press conference back in March and, without the medical examiner's report, determined that it was a justified use of force.
Read the autopsy report here: http://bit.ly/1kj9Jbj
Read the medical examiner's report here: http://bit.ly/SLyMgR
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