Doctor claims Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner made false allegations

Dr. Stephen Putsilnik, former staff member of the Lubbock County Medical Examiner's office.
Dr. Stephen Putsilnik, former staff member of the Lubbock County Medical Examiner's office.
Updated: Feb. 20, 2019 at 10:19 AM CST
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LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - A forensic pathologist who used to work at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office has come forward with allegations about the office and the doctors who run it.

Dr. Stephen Pustilnik said he worked as a contract senior forensic pathologist for Lubbock County from 2015 to 2018.

During that time, he worked under Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sridhar Natarajan until Natarajan’s retirement in the summer of 2018.

Pustilnik said on August 4, 2018, the county named another contract forensic pathologist, Dr. Sam Andrews, interim chief.

The county also appointed San Diego-based National Autopsy Assay Group Pathology Labs (NAAG) and its CEO Dr. Evan Matshes, to administer the medical examiners office.

Eventually, the county hired Andrews, a NAAG employee, as the Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner and signed a year-long contract with NAAG to run the Lubbock office.

Shortly after this change in leadership, allegations surrounding the medical examiner’s office surfaced, prompting investigations by the Texas Rangers and the Texas Medical Board.

On January 28 Andrews sent an email to Lubbock County District Attorney Sunshine Stanek regarding “allegations of misconduct against Dr. Natarajan.”

The KCBD Investigates Team obtained a copy of that email.

The email states in August of 2018, Pustilnik asked to meet with Andrews and Matshes to discuss two topics, “his desire to obtain permanent employment at LCME, and concerns he had about LCME operational matters under Dr. Natarajan,” Andrews wrote.

He went on to say by e-mailing Stanek, he was executing his obligations as Chief Medical Examiner by formally bringing these matters to her attention for potential criminal review.

Andrews said the allegations raised by Pustilnik were that, “Dr. Natarajan was an “alcoholic” who was regularly intoxicated while at work, and while on-call after hours, and that his “functional alcoholism” impaired his abilities in his medical examiner work.”

Andres said Pustilnik also said Natarajan used county facilities, equipment, personnel and resources to fund his private forensic pathology practice and he accepted “bribes” to change cause and manner of death statements, and other opinions.

Andrews claimed Pustilnik was not the only former employee to bring similar allegations to his attention.

Andrews also brought up the backlog of cases he said he discovered when Natarajan retired last year.

Initially, he believed there were 427 unfinished cases.

In this email, he said he learned there are approximately 560 cases which were left “open” upon his departure.

“In December 2018 and January 2019, I reviewed the two cases in question, and was very concerned about the quality of the overall work product, as well as conclusions that I felt were not supported by the factual record. I submitted these cases to senior NAA Group forensic pathologists for formal review. The pathologists produced detailed written reports, cited numerous concerns, and confirmed my opinion that the cause and manner of death were unsupportable. Subsequently, a senior forensic pathologist external to the NAA Group was contracted to also review the two cases. In one case, the consultant expressed such shock at the official manner of death as to write ‘the certification of the manner of death as accidental is frankly inexplicable.’”

Andrews said he could not refute Pustilnik’s allegation that Natarajan accepted bribes to change cause and/or manner of death determinations, or other opinions.

“Given the serious implications these allegations may have for the integrity of the criminal justice system in West Texas, I am obligated to make this report to you as your Chief Medical Examiner," Andrews wrote.

The Lubbock County District Attorney’s office sent these allegations to the criminal defense bar, in addition to allegations about Andrews, letting attorneys know there is an active Texas Rangers investigation.

On Tuesday, February 19th, Pustilnik sent a six page memo with more than 50 pages of attachments to Lubbock County officials and others in response to the email Andrews sent, which references Pustilnik’s allegations.

Pustilnik said he never made any of those comments to Andrews.

“It is a mystery why these were proffered. I have a feeling it is because they have found themselves under attack in the press and with these investigations with the Texas Rangers and the Texas Medical Board with these whataboutisms,” Pustilnik told the KCBD Investigates Team in an exclusive interview just minutes after sending his memo to county officials.

In response to the first allegation about Natarajan having a drinking problem, Pustilnik said, “I have never seen him intoxicated or known him to be intoxicated at the office."

In his memo, Pustilnik wrote, "I have never suspected that Dr. Natarajan was ever in the office in an intoxicated state. I had both brief and extended conversations privately and in the presence of other ME staff, and we never suspected Natarajan was intoxicated.

He went on to write, “The allegations that Dr. Natarajan took bribes is both fantastical and comical. When I read this, it took me several minutes to recover from the fits of laughter brought about this ridiculous statement,” Pustilnik wrote.

“I did remember having a conversation about a coroner in Alabama who I was suspicious might have been taking bribes. He put out natural causes of death certificates when the cause of death was some trauma, usually suicide, in order to manipulate what the insurance company might pay off on their insurance claims, but that was a coroner in Alabama. That is not the chief medical examiner in Lubbock, Texas. I don’t know how that was twisted to be from me about an allegation about Dr. Natarajan,” Pustilnik said.

Pustilnik said he has not been contacted about Andrews’ allegations.

“Nobody from the public integrity unit, or the attorney general’s office or anything. So, I think that the three weeks have gone by after that serious, serious allegation, I mean somebody should be thrown in jail if they are doing that. It is basically, I think it is considered just saliacious bunk by the district attorney and not a serious allegation,” Pustilnik said.

In the memo to the district attorney among others, Pustilnik wrote “The allegation that I made this statement is patently false."

In the memo, Pustilnik states concerns surrounding the removal, preservation and shipment of organs to San Diego.

He also addresses the allegations that Dr. Matshes practiced medicine in Lubbock County without a license.

You can read his full memo here:

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