‘We dropped the ball’: Lawsuit alleges Santa Clara County coroner failed to notify family for 108 days

For three months, no one in Njawa Pendar’s family knew what had happened to him.

Then the day after Christmas — 108 days after the 45-year-old San Jose resident first went missing in 2022 — they learned he had died in September at a local hospital.

Now, Pendar’s family is suing the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office for negligence and infliction of emotional distress, claiming the coroner never tried to reach them to let them know of his death, leading to the body’s decomposition and making it impossible for the family to embalm him according to his religion.

Pendar died of combined methamphetamine and mirtazapine complicating a COVID-19 infection, according to the coroner’s office.

Samuel Pendar, the brother of Njawa Pendar, filed the suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court earlier this month and is seeking at least $500,000 in damages.

In the suit, he alleges that another brother, Malong Pendar, was contacted Dec. 26 at about 11:30 p.m. by an investigator from the coroner’s office, his brother had died on Sept. 9 at a local hospital. Up until that call, Samuel Pendar said the family had no idea where his brother was.

When asked why it took so long to contact the family, the lawsuit alleges the investigator responded, “We’re sorry, somewhere along the line we dropped the ball.”

Samuel Pendar told the Mercury News that it “felt like they don’t care.”

“They have no dignity,” he said. “They have no compassion for human remains.”

The following day, Malong Pendar, and another brother, Nkwelle Pendar, visited the coroner’s office but were told they were unable to view the body and that Njawa Pendar had been identified by his fingerprints.

According to the office’s website, the coroner doesn’t accommodate in-person viewing, “because there is generally no need for anyone to identify a decedent after they have been transported to our facility.”

Dr. Michelle Jorden, the county’s medical-examiner coroner, declined to comment on why it took so long to contact the family and failed to provide a copy of the office’s policies for notifying next of kin.

However, state law says that after a coroner takes custody of a body, “he or she shall make a reasonable attempt to locate the family.” After the attempt, the coroner may embalm the body for preservation.

The lawsuit alleges that a reasonable attempt, however, wasn’t made since an Internet search of “Njawa Pendar family” brings back results about several of his siblings.

Samuel Pendar said the situation has caused “great emotional distress” to his family — especially since they were unable to have the type of funeral they wanted in accordance with their Christian faith.

“We were robbed of that privilege because we could not do that,” Samuel Pendar said. “We had to cremate the body.”

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