Family of man who died in police custody requests second autopsy from Colin Kaepernick's organization

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- We're learning more about the autopsy program a Milwaukee family plans to use after their loved one died in police custody Wednesday, February 23.

Keishon Thomas' family says they're working with the autopsy initiative that's run by Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp. The free program tries to provide an unbiased, subjective second look at police related deaths to ensure all information is processed and considered.

The family began the process even before the initial autopsy report has been released after Thomas died in police custody at District 5 after suffering a medical emergency.

Dr. Cyril Wecht is a forensic pathologist and a panelist with the autopsy initiative. He said, "With forensic pathology, there are things that need to be interpreted."

Dr. Wecht has performed more than 20,000 autopsies throughout his decades-long career, and consulted on more than 40,000 post mortem examinations as a medical-legal consultant.

He says it's not always absolute science, so interpretation of evidence is required. When medical examiners and police officers work closely together, he says unintentional bias can sometimes factor in.

He said, "The bias on the part of medical examiners -and I speak as someone who was a coroner for 20 years- you know, you work with cops all the time. They are there, they become your personal friends, your allies, they do favors for you, and so on. I'm not saying this is some kind of a malevolent quid pro quo, which is worked out sitting together over a cup of coffee or a beer, but I'm just saying that is natural, human behavior to relate to people who are your friends, people whom you will work with."

Keishon Thomas' family says it's working with the organization. The family also retained civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. Crump did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or comment.

Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman was asked about Thomas' death Wednesday. He again declined to offer specific information citing the ongoing independent investigation, but reiterated he had enough concerns that he suspended three officers that were involved.

Chief Jeffrey Norman said, "I do have bits and pieces of the investigation, but I have to withhold judgment until I find out what's the full picture."

That full picture could take time to develop, even after the medical examiner releases the initial autopsy report and cause of death.

Even if the secondary autopsy confirms the findings, Dr. Wecht says over time the program will help strengthen confidence in the criminal justice system. " Over a period of time, what is going to do is create a greater sense of stability, a greater sense of trust in the decisions that are being made. It's going to create a greater degree of comfort and closure for families. A greater degree of acceptance on the part of officials and the public in knowing that a police-related death has been thoroughly and properly investigated."

Dr. Wecht says roughly 30 families have requested secondary autopsies through the program, and several are being set up right now. He said, "Medical interpretation is part subjective, and therefore, there is no such thing as one firm, unequivocal opinion in all cases."

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