Armando Chavez will not be charged by D.A. even though he conducted autopsies without a medical license

In May 2015, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office learned of serious allegations regarding the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office including practicing medicine without a license, conflict of interest, misappropriation of public funds, and fraud. Today, the District Attorney’s Office is releasing a 50-page public report detailing the scope and results of the investigation. An Executive Summary of the public report is attached to this news release. The full report: Medical-Examiner-Report-e-version .

As discussed in the report, while the District Attorney’s investigation uncovered policies and procedures that will call into question the professionalism and integrity of the office, there is insufficient evidence to warrant the filing of criminal charges in this matter.

The District Attorney’s investigation found significant deficiencies in the manner in which autopsies were conducted; in some cases by an untrained, unqualified employee of the office. Chief Deputy Administrator Armando Chavez conducted procedures that could be classified as autopsies or partial autopsies and the practice of medicine despite having no medical training or certification. A number of these procedures were performed at the direction of Dr. Jon Smith while Dr. Smith was out of the country on vacation. This practice resulted in both medical conclusions and the preparation of autopsy reports that were not the product of a thorough examination of the body and necessary laboratory tests by a physician and medical professional.

During the investigation, it was learned that there are no definitive legal standards and no clear consensus among experts as to what constitutes an autopsy, who may perform an autopsy and whether conducting an autopsy is the practice of medicine. Because the law is unclear, and because Chavez’s job classification authorizes him to assist in autopsies and “obtain tissue and fluid samples from dead bodies,” criminal liability cannot be imposed for the very troubling practices described in the public report. Such legal standards need to be clarified and the report recommends that the California Legislature hold hearings to clarify this area of law.

The investigation also found that Dr. Smith was sent a cease and desist letter by the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners and received a letter from the Oregon Medical Board alleging that a complaint had been made against him for practicing medicine without a license. In each instance, Dr. Smith performed services on behalf of Regional Pathology and Autopsy Services. Since there is insufficient evidence that the laws of the State of California were violated, no charges can be filed related to those allegations.

The District Attorney’s Office further found that Dr. Smith spent significant amounts of time working for entities outside his primary responsibilities as the full-time Chief Medical Examiner and derived significant financial benefits from this work. This work included contracts with the Santa Barbara Coroner’s Office, the Monterey County Coroner’s Office, and Regional Pathology and Autopsy Services. However, it cannot be established that these activities directly interfered with his ability to perform his duties as Chief Medical Examiner for Ventura County. Thus, no charges can be proven related to this conduct.

Since the events discussed in this report, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office has adopted a number of changes to policy and procedure and has taken steps to become certified by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME). The District Attorney’s Office believes these are positive steps that will enhance the professionalism provided by the Medical Examiner’s Office to Ventura County citizens.



2 Responses to Armando Chavez will not be charged by D.A. even though he conducted autopsies without a medical license

  1. ventura county mother July 1, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    No but its a good story to be told.

  2. William "Bill" Hicks February 4, 2016 at 7:41 am

    Under these circumstances, an unqualified person could do an autopsy and fail to find out if a person died from natural causes or was murdered. Is there no crime in that?


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