Shawn Parcells who consulted arguably on one of the most contentious and important cases in the last decade says he learned everything he knows from “on-the-job training.”  Parcells became an overnight expert on television in August after he assisted in an autopsy commissioned by Michael Brown’s family.  Brown was fatally shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

He appeared over and over again on major media outlets as a forensic pathology expert.  He said that he testified in court more than a dozen times in several states.  But, the media didn’t bother to look into the truth of his past until after he appeared.  In fact, his expertise was so overstated to the public that CBS, BBC, the Associated Press and even the Washington Post called him a “forensic pathologist”.  CNN finally vetted their source and expert in late November.  Their investigation showed more than one disturbing incident.

Parcells began doing autopsies in high school.  Right after high school, Parcells got a photo op with renowned pathologist Michael Baden.  By college, according to Parcells, he taught 1st year residents. He received his bachelor’s degree in life sciences from Kansas State in 2001.  He was accepted to medical school in the Caribbean, but his wife became pregnant.  Currently, his LinkedIn page states that he will be attending the International University of the Health Sciences in the Caribbean next year.

In 2012, Parcells Regional Forensic Services was hired by Andrew County, Missouri to do an autopsy on Robert Forrester.  The 74-year-old had died of bleeding in the brain.  Police believed he had been killed.  Two days before his death, he told police that his grandson, Bobby, had hit him.  Authorities believed that this is when his brain began to bleed, leading to his death.  Parcells performed the autopsy without any doctor present.  The coroner Edward Friedlander, whose name appears on Parcell’s autopsy report, said that he “did not see this autopsy or sign the report…”  Parcells says that he listed Friedlander by accident and meant to write Dr. George Vandermark, whose name also appeared in the report, but Vandermark also denies having anything to do with the case.  The report was never signed and without a valid autopsy report (signed by a doctor), the cause of death cannot be officially determined and the case couldn’t be prosecuted.

Police instead took their suspect, Bobby Forrester, who has a history of psychiatric illness, to a mental institution where he was held for 4 days for treatment before being released.  Nine months later, Bobby Forrester, 23, assaulted his grandmother.  He is serving a 4 year sentence.  Parcells insists he did nothing wrong and that the investigation was “doomed from the start”.  He said that the body was embalmed before an autopsy was completed and the sheriff’s department never gave him the necessary records to complete the report.  The sheriff’s office said that Parcells never requested any records.

Parcells also told CNN that he received a master’s degree in anatomy and physiology with a clinical concentration from New York Chiropractic College, but could not produce the diploma.

“To take out organs and to cut open a body, you don’t need to be a pathologist,” he said. “Come to an autopsy. I think when you see what I do, you’ll realize that I’m not just making this stuff up…”

Parcells was even allowed to present the findings of Michael Brown’s autopsy in a national news conference.  Parcells was introduced by Michael Baden, who was commissioned by the family of Brown to perform the second autopsy, Parcells “has been instrumental in the autopsy evaluation.”  Parcells introduced himself as a professor at the news conference.  Parcells said that he works at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, but the university said that isn’t true.

“(Parcells) is not now and has never been a member of the Washburn University faculty,” university spokeswoman Michaela Saunders wrote in an email to CNN.  Noting that he was a guest speaker to nursing students on two occasions without pay.

Parcells said that it is legal for him to perform autopsies as long as a doctor signs off on his report.

“I’m not coming up with the cause of death, and I’m not making the final diagnosis,” he said.

Grant Gillett, a deputy sheriff in Andrew County, Missouri, said Parcells told them he was a doctor — a pathologist specifically — when he walked into the funeral home to do the Forrester autopsy.  Dustin Jeffers, who was also a deputy at the time, said Parcells identified himself as a doctor. The Andrew County Sheriff’s Office incident report refers to him as “Pathologist Shawn Parcells” and “Dr. Shawn Parcells, Pathologist.”

“If they want to think I’m a doctor, that’s their issue,” Parcells said, “…If they want to think I’m a physician, then more power to them.”

Certified pathologists are concerned that a man who has no formal education is testifying in court cases, which could ultimately result in wrongful convictions.

“I would certainly say questions should be raised about any case in which he has a part,” said Mary Case, the chief medical examiner for St. Louis County.

Judy Walker sued Parcells after she paid him $1,250 in 2011 to find out the cause of her husband’s dementia.  She said that he was supposed to remove her husband’s brain and send it to Harvard Medical School for testing, but he did not do that.  Her lawyer, Michael Hodges, said about three years later — after the lawsuit was filed — she received a report from a doctor in New York.  Shockingly, Parcells while taking a deposition in the civil case actually slid a bucket containing a brain across the table to Hodges.  Hodges said he isn’t sure that brain belongs to Michael Doris, Walker’s husband, or if it’s real.

Walker believes her husband’s brain has been “lost or destroyed,” but Parcells says that was his brain and he brought it to the deposition to return it to her.

This isn’t the first time concerns over Parcells have been brought up.  Missouri prosecutors and coroners complained that Parcells was performing unsupervised forensic autopsies without qualifications back in early 2013.

Radley Balko of the Washington Post put it best, “here was someone quoted authoritatively in newspapers across the country as a forensic pathologist, who was being proclaimed as a medical expert on cable news show after cable news show…now admitting he “need[ed] to get more credentials” — and pondering that perhaps he’ll go to medical school…someday. And he continued to appear on cable news after [that].  How does this happen?…Cable news is more about stoking biases and inflaming partisans than about informing viewers.”


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