Even under the best of circumstances, a government autopsy of someone who dies in government custody might be viewed as less than credible. But in the case of Bay County medical examiner Charles Siebert and his autopsy on a 14-year-old who was beaten in a juvenile boot camp, the conditions all but demand a second opinion.
First, his finding, that young Martin Lee Anderson died from internal bleeding related to a sickle cell trait, is controversial within the medical community. Dr. Jerry Barbosa, medical director of pediatric hematology oncology at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, called the report "totally preposterous" and told the Times: "In 30 years of taking care of children with sickle cell disease, I never, ever heard of anybody dying from sickle-cell trait."
Second, Siebert may or may not have been licensed to practice medicine at the time he made his determination. His license lapsed on Jan. 31, after he examined Anderson but before he signed the autopsy. Following news reports, he renewed his license Tuesday.
Third, Siebert's competence has been called into question. Frances Terry, whose husband and daughter died in a 2004 hurricane-spawned tornado, publicly released Siebert's findings on Monday. The autopsy described "unremarkable" testicles on the daughter, along with the existence of "unremarkable" appendix and gallblader that had been surgically removed years earlier. It described no scars on her husband's back, where a prominent 8-inch scar existed.
Fourth, a videotape showing multiple officers wrestling and striking a mostly limp Anderson to the ground has stirred strong public emotions and legislative oversight. Given Anderson's subsequent death and the volatile issue of race (Anderson was African-American), the autopsy result should be beyond reproach.
Any single one of these factors could justify the appointment of a special medical examiner to review the results or perform a new autopsy. But the combination makes such a review almost mandatory. Florida's medical examiners are appointed by the governor, in part to provide for their independence, and their work is overseen by a state commission. In Bay County, though, too many disturbing questions need to be answered.