County medical examiner resigns after rocky tenure

EVERETT — Dr. Norman Thiersch, who presided as Snohomish County medical examiner for 16 years, resigned from that job this week, leaving his reputation for forensic prowess intact even as he remained the focus of repeated complaints and lawsuits regarding his ability to work with others.

Thiersch was the county’s highest-paid employee, earning a $208,774 salary. He reported directly to County Executive John Lovick.

His last day in the office was Thursday, but he has vacation to use and his tenure with the county doesn’t officially end until Nov. 26, said Rebecca Hover, spokeswoman for the executive’s office.

Thiersch’s departure came through a confidential separation agreement, she said.

He remains subject to subpoena to testify as a witness in any criminal cases he helped investigate.

Thiersch supervised 14 employees and a budget of a little more than $2.2 million. His departure seemed all but inevitable after Lovick’s office early this month hired Dan Christman, a well-regarded former Bothell police sergeant with a strong forensics background, to help manage the agency as its deputy director.

Lovick’s office made clear that part of Christman’s job would be to address persistent workplace management troubles.

Thiersch is respected by police and prosecutors, who have long relied on him as an expert witness.

Paul Stern, a 30-year veteran of the county prosecutor’s office who has taken numerous homicide cases to trial, said he is sorry to see Thiersch go.

“I have worked with every medical examiner Snohomish County has had, and Dr. Thiersch was, by far, the very best,” he said. “He is smart, thorough, objective and accessible. He was the ultimate professional at his craft.”

The praise was not universal.

There was high turnover among death investigators under Thiersch and in recent years, complaints about employee morale. It became so tense that in 2010, the County Council insisted that a consultant be hired to examine workplace behavior at the morgue. Staff working for Aaron Reardon, then county executive, earlier had submitted a glowing report suggesting there was little room for improvement.

He was named as a defendant in lawsuits about workplace conditions. The county settled one lawsuit with a former death investigator a year ago for $495,000. The case accused Thiersch of subjecting the woman to sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and failing to accommodate a disability. The county in December was sued by another female investigator, who again accused Thiersch of discrimination and retaliation. A $750,000 claim for damages was filed.

Both of those lawsuits accused Thiersch of losing his temper during autopsies and roughly handling internal organs, causing blood to splash onto his assistants.

Thiersch’s office also dismayed Monroe police who in 2012 questioned why a pathologist refused to perform an autopsy on a 7-year-old boy who died of an apparent overdose of aspirin or similar medication. No charges could be brought in the case, in part because of a lack of potential evidence that likely would have been gathered during an autopsy, records show.

Lovick’s deputy executive, Mark Ericks, is Bothell’s former police chief. He hired Christman at that department about 15 years ago.

Prior to joining Bothell police, Christman had worked as a medical death investigator in Idaho and Washington, including years in the Snohomish County office he now helps lead. Christman is an expert in blood-spatter analysis and operates a forensics consulting business. He’s also a forensics instructor at the state’s police training academy.

The county code specifies that the medical examiner’s office must be run by a physician certified in forensic pathology. Part of Christman’s job will be to make recommendations about reforming the current medical examiner structure, and, Ericks said, possibly dividing up the administrative and scientific components of the office.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

Lynnwood
Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

Everett
Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

Everett police officers survey the scene of a shooting along East Casino Road on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington’s 5th police academy could be in Snohomish County

A new academy in Northwest Washington would help clear a lengthy wait list for new police hires to get training.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.