11 Investigates has learned that Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who linked traumatic brain disease to football players, had previously been hired by attorney Todd Hollis as an expert witness in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the City of Pittsburgh over the death of Jim Rogers.
Rogers died a day after he was tased by a Pittsburgh Police officer investigating a report of a stolen bicycle in Bloomfield two years ago.
According to court documents, Hollis paid Omalu $5,000 as an expert witness.
Hollis declined to comment on Omalu’s involvement and the city agreed to settle the case before trial for a record $8 million.
As 11 Investigates first reported earlier this week, the City of Pittsburgh paid Omalu $10,000 this week to review the case of Jim Rogers.
The city said it will use Omalu at an arbitration hearing for one of the fired officers who’s attempting to be reinstated.
Four officers were initially fired for excessive force, failing to get Rogers medical attention and violating Bureau procedures and policies.
Two of the four officers have already been reinstated with back pay. A third officer is expected to get his job back as well.
The only officer who may face trouble is Keith Edmonds.
He is the officer who repeatedly tased Rogers and his arbitration hearing is still outstanding.
11 Investigates asked WPXI Legal Analyst Phil DiLucente about the arrangement involving Omalu who squared off against the city in the wrongful death lawsuit and is now working side by side with the city.
“I know to the public it may seem ungermane, but it happens all the time. Any doctor who is an expert has rights themselves. If they want to represent one party one day and now they want to represent another party the other day, and it’s the same for them so long as there’s not a conflict if one even exists, if one even exists,” said DiLucente.
11 Investigates first reported earlier this week, that the city had hired that same expert, Dr. Omalu, to fight the reinstatement of the police officer who tased Rogers.
The president of the police officers’ union, Robert Swartzwelder, fired back, in an email to 11 Investigates, claiming the city disregarded the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s report that ruled the death accidental.
Swartzwelder accused the city of “shopping” for an expert, he said, has now been paid twice by the city, once through the settlement and now directly with tax dollars.
“The FOP like the Homicide investigators and the Allegheny County District Attorney find Dr. Williams to be a professional, highly competent, credible, and publicly responsible Medical Examiner. It seems the City does not. Instead, the City has shopped for an expert who has been paid twice by the City. $5000 through the plaintiffs’ expenses in the Jim Rogers settlement and now $10,000 directly through City tax dollars. If that is not a conflict of interest and a challenge to the professional competency of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, I don’t know what is,” wrote Swartzwelder in the statement.
The city also responded in an email to questions about the hiring of Omalu, who had worked for the attorney who sued the city.
“We did not expect the union to contest the cause of death of Mr. Jim Roger. Nor did we expect the union to contest the necessary disciplinary actions,” wrote Olga George, Mayor Ed Gainey’s press secretary.
11 Investigates also reached out to Omalu about his decision to work for the plaintiffs’ attorney and now for the city of Pittsburgh. We did not hear back on that specific question.
In an email earlier this week, Omalu said he had been hired by the city to review the case of Jim Rogers, but he did not mention his work with Hollis on the case last year.
“We have not received any retainer fee payment yet, and we have not done any work on this case yet. Also, I cannot speak with you on an open case, unless the attorneys give me the authorization to do so. I am not directly involved with the case, and I do not know the details of the case. All I am doing is addressing specific scientific questions I have been given regarding case-specific and general causation. Outside these questions, I do not know the details of the case,” wrote Omalu.
Swartzwelder said the Police Officers’ Union notified the city they were appealing all of the disciplinary cases in early 2022.
And he said the union is not contesting the Medical Examiner’s finding that it was an accidental death.
“The manner of death was accidental according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner. You fired the police officers over an accidental death,” said Swartzwelder.
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