SAN FRANCISCO—The city of San Francisco is in the process of settling a lawsuit that was filed in 2020 with a former employee of the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office who claimed he was wrongfully terminated for refusing to alter the autopsy report for the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi in 2019.
The city has tentatively agreed to pay $436,000 to Christopher Wirowek who was the operations director for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner back in February 2019. The city attorney’s office said it considers that sum “an appropriate resolution given the inherent costs of continued litigation.” The city’s Board of Supervisors still has to formally approve the settlement before it becomes final.
Adachi, who was 59 at the time, was found unconscious in a North Beach apartment back in 2019. Originally his death was considered suspicious.
Wirowek oversaw the investigation and his staff issued the final official autopsy report which indicated that the cause of death were the toxic effects of cocaine and alcohol on Adachi’s already diseased heart.
According to the lawsuit, when Wirowek was set to announce his department’s findings he received a call from then City Administrator Naomi Kelly.
Kelly wanted Wirowek to remove any references to cocaine and to a female companion Adachi was with before he died according to the suit.
At that time, a police report detailing the facts around Adachi’s death was leaked to freelance journalist Bryan Carmody who sold it to Bay Area television stations, sparking accusations from the public defender’s office that police were trying to smear Adachi.
Wirowek recounted on social media, “She [Kelly] wanted to review the entire investigative autopsy report. She went line by line – there were some changes – and I said ‘no’.” After Wirowek’s refusal he was fired several months later.
According to the city, he was fired after being caught mishandling “highly confidential” personnel documents. Before Adachi’s death he filed a court motion questioning the credibility of the medical examiner’s office over its loss of accreditation with the National Association of Medical Examiners.
The Medical Examiner’s office had been applying for temporary accreditation as it prepared to move from its former facility at the Hall of Justice to its new facility in India Basin.
When the office officially moved, no one reapplied for accreditation. The accreditation is not a requirement to operate according to reports. The City Administrator’s Office, citing a personnel matter, would not say if the controversy around the accreditation was the reason Wirowek was fired.
“I was fired because I told Miss Kelly ‘no.’ That I wouldn’t falsify Mr. Adachi’s autopsy report,” Wirowek explained. His attorneys contend the document allegations were a pretext for whistleblower retaliation.
According to Kelly’s attorneys, she was asking a couple of “innocuous” questions about references to cocaine and never asked about the companion. Kelly has since left San Francisco. The city initially called Wirowek’s legal claims “complete fiction” in a public statement.