Saturday, June 14, 2003

Pathologist says bosses OK'd 'art'

Statement says morgue knew of Condon project

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A former pathologist at the Hamilton County Coroner's Office says he believes his bosses knew photographer Thomas Condon was working on "an art project" when they allowed him into the morgue with his camera.

The pathologist, Jonathan Tobias, said in a sworn statement filed in court this week that the art project was one of the reasons Condon was given access to the morgue.

He said others at the morgue seemed to know what Condon was doing and, at one point, a fellow pathologist remarked that one of Condon's photos was "cool."

Tobias' statement, his first since being cleared of criminal charges last month, contradicts the statements of county officials who have repeatedly said Condon never had permission to work on anything but an educational video.

Tobias' comments are part of a legal brief filed this week at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

County lawyers have asked the appeals court to throw out a class-action lawsuit that claims the county's negligence allowed Condon to take hundreds of photos of bodies posed with props such as sea shells, doll house furniture and sheet music.

The lawsuit claims that hundreds of families are owed damages from the county because their loved ones were "accessed" or "manipulated" in some way by Condon between August 2000 and January 2001.

The families' lawyers say Tobias' statement supports their claim that Condon had extensive access to the morgue and that morgue officials had reason to believe he was working on more than just the educational video.

Lawyers for the county, however, say morgue officials never discussed an art project with Condon and never gave him permission to do anything more than work on the video, which was not completed.

"Condon had indicated (to Tobias) he was looking at pursuing some art project, and that's as far as it goes," said Louis Gilligan, the county's attorney. "He doesn't know if what Condon told him was true."

Gilligan also said that Tobias' statement supports the county's claim that Condon had access to only a few bodies - not the hundreds claimed by the families. In his statement, Tobias said he knew of only five times that Condon visited the morgue.

"There is no reason to conclude he was there any other time," Gilligan said. "There is no evidence of it."

But lawyers for the families say Tobias' statement shows that higher-ranking morgue officials must have known - or should have known - what Condon was doing.

"(Condon) was walking around taking pictures of everything in the place, and my boss was standing right there," Tobias said, referring to chief deputy coroner Robert Pfalzgraf, who has previously said that he believed Condon had permission to be in the morgue.

Tobias said another deputy coroner, Gary Utz, once told him that Condon could "come in and take pictures of anything I do." He said Utz, who could not be reached Friday, also remarked to him that one of Condon's posed photos was "cool."

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