National Autopsy Assay Group (NAAG) released a statement Tuesday morning regarding a lawsuit filed against NAAG, along with Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Andrews and Dr. Evan Matshes.
Rebecca Villarreal Ortiz’s lawsuit, filed on Monday, claimed that Dr. Andrews and Dr. Matshes are responsible for taking body parts from a dead child without permission.
The NAAG said:
“As medical examiners our duty is to the victim of a crime to assure that evidence is available should the district attorney or a grand jury decide to pursue additional charges in a case. If the evidence is destroyed it could make it impossible to achieve justice for the victim. Our responsibility to the community and the criminal justice system is to ensure that the cause and manner of death are proven correct, even when that process contradicts the wishes of family members. We stand by our decisions in this case.”
Villarreal’s lawsuit said the child, Elaina Castilleja, suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2010. Elaina died in 2018 at the age of 10, the lawsuit said. During her life, Elaina was adopted by Villarreal who was her grandmother.
Elaina’s remains were taken to the office of medical examiner in September, and internal organs were taken from Elaina’s body, according to the lawsuit without permission. Written instructions from Dr. Andrews said NAAG had a “particular administrative interest” in the body.
More details on this ongoing story: Continuing Coverage – accusations against the medical examiner’s office
We were able to speak with NAAG Pathology Lab’s spokesperson over the phone. He said they were acting in their legal right to collect evidence for a possible future criminal case.
“The fact is their position, they did exactly what they were supposed to do to protect the interest of the child who is potentially a victim of a crime, was a victim of a crime,” said David Margulies. “They did what they’re supposed to do and they did it correctly.”
Elaina’s biological parents were prosecuted in Sedgwick County, Kansas in 2010 for charges related to Elaina’s shaken baby syndrome. On Tuesday, the district attorney for the county said they were contacted about Elaina’s autopsy in the fall and the county is now looking into possible more legal action, pending the results of the autospy.
“These practices are to conduct a proper autopsy they can defend in court,” said Margulies.
But Villarreal-Ortiz’s lawyers said taking organ and shipping them to San Diego went too far.
“In our petition, it is alleged they went above and beyond the standard that they should follow in completing a pediatric autopsy,” said Travis Ware.
Margulies also addressed allegations against NAAG Pathology says they weren’t taking the organs for criminal cases but instead for research. It’s something NAAG completely denies.
“They have said this repeatedly, they don’t do research. It says it on their website,” said Margulies.
One of the websites for NAAG Pathology Labs said they are not a research agency.
“We are not a research agency. All of our efforts are service driven toward scientifically defensible conclusions. We do not retain tissue for teaching or research purposes. All of the examined tissue will be returned to the originating agency / next-of-kin (for burial/cremation).”
But Mr. Ware does point out that the autopsy instructions given to a pathologist regarding Elaina’s autopsy don’t mention a criminal case, instead it’s listed as a “particular administrative interest.”