This interesting story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlights questions raised by Missouri coroners, medical examiners and prosecutors about Shawn Parcells, operator of Kansas Forensics in Leawood, Kansas. These questions include whether Mr. Parcells, who apparently only has a BS in Life Sciences/Chemistry from Kansas State University, was, until very recently, performing unsupervised forensic autopsies without a medical license.
I originally overlooked this story when it came out about three weeks ago; many thanks to a reader for bringing it to my attention.
Complaints and concerns about Mr. Parcells include:
- The coroner in Lincoln County Missouri became concerned when Parcells asked him what to put down as the cause of death on a patient he (Parcells) had just autopsied
- In April 2013, a prosecuting attorney filed a motion to postpone a murder trial after the pathologist whose name was on the autopsy paperwork testified in a deposition that he “had not signed the report, that it was not his signature on the report, that he had not been consulted concerning the death” and that “he had no knowledge of the case.”
- Another county is investigating an autopsy that had two different pathologist’s names on the paperwork. A detective present at the autopsy states neither pathologist attended the autopsy and that only Parcells and another assistant were present.
- A deputy coroner in the same county as the postponed murder trial accused Parcells of performing an autopsy in a homicide case by himself. Parcells states he merely dissected the organs, and that the photographs and specimens were later reviewed by a pathologist, who signed the report.
- Another Missouri coroner claims Parcells performed an autopsy in a suicide case without a pathologist present. When the coroner asked whether what he was doing was legal, Parcells reportedly responded, “Oh yeah, I do it all the time; it’s fine.”
- Mr. Parcells was reported to the Missouri Medical Board by a Missouri coroner in 2011, but the case was closed in July 2012, and the record is shielded from public view.
Parcells has been in the autopsy business for a few years now. According to his LinkedIn page, Parcells used to be “Forensic Pathologist Assistant/Chief Medical Investigator/CEO and Chairman” of Parcells Forensic Pathology Group, LLC, a company he incorporated in Kansas in June 2010.
Per the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, that company is currently delinquent.
He has been Managing Partner and “expert forensic consultant” at Kansas Forensics since November 2012.
He claims to have “participated in over a (sic) 1000 autopsy cases, over 1000 case reviews, and has testified in court for both the prosecution and defense” as an “expert in Forensic Medicine” in Missouri, Georgia and Texas. Furthermore, he states he:
is trained as a Forensic Pathologist Assistant and Medical Investigator in general forensic pathology to include all forms of blunt force and sharp force injury, pattern injury analysis, gunshot wounds, strangulation and asphyxia, fire deaths, drug deaths, and sudden death related to medical conditions.
He mentions no training courses or certification in his biographies, so it is unclear from where he received this training.
Mr. Parcells has promoted himself in other interesting ways as well, according to the article:
- He listed himself as a member of the National Association of Medical Examiners and American Academy of Forensic Sciences, but both organizations deny he was a member (His LinkedIn page does not include those organizations anymore)
- He uses the initials “FPA” (forensic pathology assistant) after his name, a designation he admits he invented
- He lists himself as an adjunct professor at Wichita State University, but an official at the university states he assisted at a clinical site only once.
- He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Medical Toxicology and Forensic Medicine, a quarterly journal based in Tehran, Iran. On its website, he is listed as “Professor Shawn Lynn Parcells” and his bio (which is incredibly similar to his bio on the Kansas Forensics’ website) states he “teaches forensic pathology at Wichita State University”.
Dr. David Borel, Medical Director of Kansas Forensics who is certified in anatomic and clinical pathology, dermatopathology and cytopathology (but not forensic pathology), initially defended the practice of allowing an assistant to perform an unsupervised autopsy when interviewed by the paper. But just a few days later, Kansas Forensics publicly stated Dr. Borel would now be “gowned and gloved” at all autopsies.
Dr. Borel, who interestingly is also the Medical Director of Dermatopathology Diagnostics, can go ahead and count me as one of the people who do not think an assistant should be allowed to perform an unsupervised autopsy, especially in a forensic setting.
As many of us know, the external examination in forensic cases can often be just as, if not more, important than the internal examination. Once that body is off the table and sent to the funeral home, the chain of evidence has been broken. If an oversight is made during the autopsy, it can be impossible to make up for it through photographs. Not to mention the fact photographs are, for the most part, inferior to seeing details with one’s own eyes.
I received excellent forensic pathology training while in residency, and yet I still would never even consider performing a forensic autopsy, let alone delegate the responsibility to an assistant. Especially an assistant whom, by all outward appearances, is wholly unqualified to perform autopsies.
One last thing I found intriguing about Mr. Parcells. Towards the end of the article, Mr. Parcells made some religious references. It turns out he started Shawn Parcells Ministries in 2012, which is also located in Leawood, Kansas.
It is apparently a misdemeanor for someone without a medical license to perform autopsies in Missouri and it appears, at least to me, that Dr. Borel’s original defense and Kansas Forensics’ policy change are implicit admissions Mr. Parcells was indeed performing unsupervised autopsies.
Then, of course, there is also the issue as to how many forensic cases are potentially tainted if these allegations are true.
Note: In the picture above (which appeared in the Post-Dispatch story), one can just make out a name in the top right corner of the dry erase board. In the top left corner, the words “2/28/13 (Th)” and “start 11:15 am” are visible. Based on the abbreviations on the board, this is a record of an autopsy that had been performed. I did a quick Google search using the name and found that a person with the same name died in Maryville, Missouri on February 26, 2013. Maryville is less than a two hour drive from Leawood Kansas. HIPAA violation anyone?