1997: Death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown

By Christopher Ruddy FOR THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW December 11, 1997
WASHINGTON – The chief medical examiner for the U.S. armed forces, reacting to press criticism of his agency’s handling of the death of Commerce Secretary Ron brown, issued a sweeping gag order Wednesday on military and civilian personnel in his office.
At approximately 1 p.m., Dr. Jerry Spencer, chief medical examiner for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, hand-delivered a memo signed by himself to approximately 20 AFIP staff members. The memo placing restrictions on those staffers comes in the wake of allegations by two AFIP forensic pathologists that the agency did not properly investigate Brown’s death.
The pathologists, Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell and Army Lt. Col. David Hause, have criticized AFIP for not conducting and autopsy on Brown’s body upon its return to the United States from the site of a military jet crash in Croatia in April 1996.
Both men allege that AFIP did not properly investigate a suspicious head wound that both agree may have been caused by a gunshot. The Two forensic pathologists also claim that x-rays of Brown’s head have mysteriously disappeared from the case file.
Spencer informed his staff in the memo that “a command investigation” was underway “regarding procedures and individual actions related to the (Tribune-Review) article ‘Experts disagree on Ron Brown Head Wound’ authored by Christopher Ruddy and other related matters.”
Cogswell’s concerns were detailed in the article. Hause’s supporting comments were reported in a follow- up article this week.
Chris Kelly, a spokesman for AFIP, said the internal investigation does not include a review of official findings that Brown died of “blunt force injuries” suffered in the crash. Kelly noted that an experienced medical examiner ruled the circular wound on Brown’s head was not caused by a gunshot.
The investigation, he said, would focus on “policies and procedures on the Brown case.”
He declined to comment on whether the missing x-rays would be part of the investigation.
Spencer’s memo laid out very specific restrictions on AFIP staff during the investigation:
** All Staffers are to refer press calls to the public affairs officer. “Do not make any statements to the press without prior public affairs coordination,” Spencer wrote.
** All staff members are to stay at their duty stations in AFIP’s Rockville, Md., offices for the duration of their working day. Staff, including ranking military officers, must seek approval to leave the building for lunch.
**Staffers are to turn over “slides, photos, x-rays and other materials” relating to the Brown case.
In the past, AFIP medical examiners have been allowed to keep such case materials at their homes for use in lectures.
The widely distributed memo mirrors one that placed similar restrictions on Cogswell alone last week. Last friday, Cogswell was escorted to his home by an Air Force police officer who demanded entry to his house while Cogswell retrieved case materials in his possession.
One AFIP staff member told the Tribune-Review that the treatment of Cogswell was “unheard of” for a military officer and likened the restrictions on his movements to “house arrest.”
Spokesman Kelly took umbrage at that description and said Cogswell and other staff members are free to go home at the end of their work day.
Another staff member told the Tribune-Review that yesterday’s Spencer memo indicated “there is a lot of panic” among senior military officials concerned about negative publicity in the case.
In a previous interview, Hause told the Tribune-Review that AFIP actions against Cogswell ignored concerns over the handling of the Brown case.
Kelly reiterated that AFIP stands by its conclusion of accidental death and said the internal inquiry is being conducted to “make sure things administratively were done properly” in the Brown case.

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