DETROIT-The Wayne County Medical Examiner has ruled the death of Andrew Anthos, a 72-year-old gay man widely reported to have been gay bashed, was natural causes.
Dr. Carl J. Schmidt, Chief Medical Examiner of Wayne County, ruled in his autopsy report, “It is my opinion that death was caused by respiratory failure secondary to quadriplegia, the consequence of spinal stenosis due to advanced arthritis of the spine.”
Stenosis is a form or arthritis which causes abnormal bone growth and when found in the spine can lead to paralysis, and death.
The report also includes mention of a bruise on the back, right side of Anthos’ head. Schmidt ruled it was consistent with a fall, not a beating. He says his ruling implies that the fall was caused by the stenosis.
In a phone interview, Schmidt says there was ample evidence that Anthos spinal stenosis caused the elderly man’s fall and subsequent death.
But when questioned about whether he could determine in an autopsy whether the stenosis had been triggered by a fall or it triggered the fall, Schmidt says he reach the conclusion based on a review of the clinical records and his autopsy.
Asked if it was possible Anthos was pushed, Schmidt conceded, “I suppose it’s possible.”
Schmidt immediately backed off this statement by stating, “As long as there is no witness or evidence that something else happened, I stand by my conclusions.”
But Detroit police say there was a witness. “The witness heard a thump and turned around to see the person of interest standing over Anthos,” said James Tate, Second Deputy Chief of the Department of Public Information in the Detroit Police Department.
“That doesn’t mean he saw Mr. Anthos fall or that he pushed him,” Schmidt says of the person of interest.
Police released a sketch of the person of interest, and had been looking for him. They have since closed their investigation based on the Medical Examiner’s determination.
Asked again if he could determine whether the fall caused the resulting paralysis triggered by the stenosis, or if the stenosis caused the fall, he responded. “I don’t know.”
He has consistently been quoted in mainstream media outlets saying the fall was caused by the stenosis.
Anthos’ death had been widely reported in local, national and international press as a gay bashing incident. Reports said an eyewitness saw the beating, and that it included a pipe. Police say that there is no witness to the alleged beating and no evidence of a pipe.
Dr. Schmidt developed his conclusions, in part, based on the investigation information provide by Detroit police.
“Anytime there is a fall, we can’t distinguish between if they fell accidentally or if someone pushed them,” says Dr. Cheryl Lowe, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of Wayne County.
When asked how the department could make a determination that the death was accidental when they have no idea how the fall occurred, Lowe abruptly ended the call. “I have been summoned to court. I’ll review the records and call you back.”
Lowe never returned the call.
Ingham County Medical Examiner Dr. Dean Sienko concurs that it is not possible to tell if a fall is accidental or caused by another. “If you just fell or if someone nudged you, could you tell that in an autopsy? Probably not.”
Sienko says the Medical Examiner’s job is to take the evidence and weave a picture of what happened based not only on the medical evidence, but also on evidence collected in a police investigation.
Tate says he worked with the family to make media contacts on the case, and to draw attention to the case. That attention made the Anthos case a national cause. Triangle Foundation and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stood behind the family in demanding the police investigate the crime as a hate crime.
And they are not changing their tune based on this autopsy report.
“We are standing by the words of Andrew Anthos and his family,” says Melissa Pope, Director of Victim Services at Triangle Foundation. “We are continuing to investigate this case, and call on the Detroit Police Department to reopen the case.”
Gay rights opponents have seized on this case to attack calls for hate crime legislation. Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan says the Detroit Police Department should investigate Triangle Foundation for filing a false police report.
Tate says there has been no formal request for such an investigation. “Until there is a request, there’s no reason to give this credence,” Tate said. “It doesn’t appear as that is the case (that a false police report was filed.)”
Pope called the AFA claim “ridiculous” and says the family would prefer Anthos’ death had not happened this way. “They would have wished it happened any other way than the way it happened, as would we.”
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is offering a $5,000 reward leading the arrest and conviction of any person responsible for Anthos’ death.