Charles Eimers Death-In-Custody Investigation: TOTAL GRIDLOCK

An update into the death-in-custody of Charles Eimers reveals an investigation in total gridlock and it could remain that way indefinitely.  The main problem stems from the fact that apparently to date none of the officers present during the infamous Thanksgiving Day arrest has been interrogated by FDLE investigators.  How Charles Eimers ended up dead within five minutes of his altercation with Key West police is still not clear.

Sources close to the case have informed The Blue Paper that the officers’ union lawyer has instructed the fourteen KWPD officers involved not to talk with FDLE investigators until he is present.  A meeting has been scheduled for the 14th of this month but will likely result in the officers “pleading the Fifth”.  In other words, to avoid incriminating themselves they could decide not to cooperate with the investigation at all.

According to Dr. Scheurman, the Monroe County Medical Examiner, this is a considerable problem.  “I need to determine to what extent natural disease played a part in the cause of death; whether it a contributing factor or just incidental,” says Scheurman,  “The FDLE investigation will answer a lot of those questions.”

As we found out when speaking with Scheurman, the circumstances surrounding a death provide essential information in a medical examiner’s analysis.  The autopsy itself is just a part of the process and not necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be in movies.

A death from natural causes would be the likely outcome if the initial version presented by the police department prevails.  Officially Charles Eimers, 61, had collapsed while fighting the police and couldn’t be revived in spite of police efforts to save him.  A heart attack was assumed to be the probable cause of death since heart medications were found in his car.

However witnesses and a homemade video point to homicide. Was Eimers prone on his stomach with officers piled up on his back?  Was he tased, as several witnesses stated? Was he elbowed in the head by Offficer Lovette, as Lovette allegedly admitted before an independent witness.  Was officer “KA” really accusing one of her fellow officers of murder that morning on South Beach?  Was Eimers resisting arrest or desperately trying to breathe?  Knowing the answers, according to the medical examiner, will be crucial in determining other possible causes of death, like asphyxia or trauma.

Last year in Milwaukee the county medical examiner decided to change his ruling on the cause of the in-custody-death of Derek Williams, 22, from ‘natural causes’ to ‘homicide’ after a local newspaper, the Journal Sentinel, published its own investigation.

Like in Key West, however, the official police description of Derek Williams’ arrest minimized the use of force.  The Journal Sentinel reports showed that Derek Williams might have died of asphyxia while in police custody.  A video showed Williams struggling to breathe for nearly eight minutes in the back of a police car before falling unconscious.  Forty-five minutes later he was pronounced dead.  The report was what caused the Milwaukee coroner to change his conclusion into a finding of homicide.

Obviously Monroe County’s medical examiner wants to avoid this kind of reversal of findings.  “At this point I am awaiting FDLE,” says Scheurman.  “I call them every week.  I will call them today. When Kathy Smith [the lead FDLE investigator] is done going through all of the officers’ statements we will have a meeting.  I will review any video – dash/cam, etc. and I will review FDLE’s information including any other investigative leads and combine that information with my findings.”

The cooperation of the officers is an essential part of the process.  Unfortunately, it seems that police departments across the county have devised a secret chart that helps them navigate their way out of trouble when their actions result in death (even when its all caught on camera).  The course laid out by officers is to “lawyer-up” immediately and refuse to cooperate.  In the case of Derek Williams a February 2013 inquest resulted in a recommendation that the three police officers that arrested Williams face criminal charges.  However, following the officers’ decision to plead the Fifth the prosecutor dropped the case for lack of evidence.

Similarly, in Miami, prosecutors decided in late December 2013 not to pursue criminal charges in the controversial death in custody of a 35 year old black man.  Corey McNeil was found pierced with 27 bullets – officers initially claimed McNeil was armed with a box cutter but later refused to cooperate with the investigation.  Unable to obtain statements from the officers, the State Attorney decided he couldn’t disprove the preposterous self-defense story and dropped the case.

Last month a jury rendered a non-guilty verdict for two Fullerton, California police officers in the death-in-custody case of Kelly Thomas, 37.  The case resembles the death in Key West of Charles Eimers.  Both Thomas and Eimers were presumed homeless.  They both appeared on video to be struggling beneath a magma of police officers. Both may have died of asphyxia. According to the Orange County medical examiner, Kelly Thomas “died of brain damage from lack of oxygen caused by chest compression and injuries to his face.”

Doctor Michael Lekawa who treated Thomas testified “during the confrontation with police various persons were on [Thomas] and holding him down preventing him from breathing.  He was doing everything he could to breathe.”

He might as well have been describing the Charles Eimers arrest on South Beach on Thanksgiving Day.  Thomas is heard in the police surveillance video yelling “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!.”  His voice gets lower and lower until he can no longer be heard.  At that point he was dead.  None of the officers who were charged would testify. The jury failed to convict in spite of it being one of the most violent and disturbing arrests ever caught on camera.

Is Eimers case heading in the same direction?  Not necessarily.  According to criminal attorneys who spoke with The Blue Paper, Florida law has some special investigative tools not necessarily available elsewhere.  Under Florida Statute 406.12 it is a crime to refuse to provide the medical examiner with details about the circumstances surrounding a death that falls within his jurisdiction.

How the Florida Statute making a criminal offense out of failure to assist the medical examiner and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination are supposed to play out might be a tricky legal issue. In Florida the duty to cooperate with the medical examiner and the associated criminal penalty for failure to do so applies to everyone equally.

Does this mean that the officers should be required to answer questions as long as the answers may not be used against them in a criminal prosecution?  Apparently, there is legal support for that argument.

Still, the investigators have to be willing to adopt a forceful approach, but this doesn’t appear to be the case when it comes to the Eimers investigation.  Now, more than two months after Eimers’ death, the medical examiner is still prevented from finishing his report, the body of the deceased was nearly cremated before autopsy and a key civilian witness who contacted The Blue Paper has yet to be interviewed despite the fact that they called the FDLE over six weeks ago.  It doesn’t appear that this investigation is on a fast track.

It’s particularly disturbing that the failure to report the death of Charles Eimers to the medical examiner [which nearly resulted in the cremation of Eimers’ body prior to autopsy] does not appear to be under investigation as the egregious obstruction of justice that it may have been.  Detective Todd Stevens, who was in charge of the KWPD investigation, claimed he wasn’t aware that Eimers had died, but phone records from the family and a statement by Eimers’ son Treavor to the contrary show that Stevens spoke to Treavor for eight minutes the day after Charles Eimer’s was removed from life support.

When we contacted the office of the State Attorney about this issue Assistant State Attorney Mark Kohl told us he believed FDLE was investigating that particular criminal matter [nearly cremating the body].  When we asked FDLE for confirmation they suggested we ask the KWPD if THEY were investigating.  KWPD told us they issued a reprimand against Stevens but didn’t conduct any sort of investigation.

Is the concept of the police investigating itself completely hopeless? Let’s hope not.

To access all of our past coverage on the death of Charles Eimers click here.

 

 

Key West The Newspaper [The Blue Paper] encourages spirited, open debate in comments on our stories. We do ask that you refrain from profanity, personal attacks and remarks that are off point. Please join the conversation!

10 comments on “Charles Eimers Death-In-Custody Investigation: TOTAL GRIDLOCK

  1. The stakes are high. Any member of the government’s collective, who obstructs, perjuries or obfuscates the truth has committed a serious crime.

    Any State Attorney who knows, or ‘Should Have Known’, that malfeasance might have been a part of a criminal investigation; is in serious trouble if they do not expeditiously initiate their own independent investigation, separate and apart from the other investigating entities, so as to accurately determine the facts of the case.

    Prosecutorial Misconduct is the least of their worries. Prison cells cage prosecutors, police officers, corrections officers and wardens; alongside the very inmates that they put there.

    The truth will be gotten to in this case. After they beat and hog-tied an innocent man, they shipped him away to be isolated in solitary confinement for 30 months, for crimes he had not committed. On his first night caged in this wing, they allowed the inmate next to him to slowly strangle himself throughout the night until he was dead. Once their case against this man began to unravel, they contracted a hit on him. Then they threatened the life of an individual who secured the evidence that proved the innocence of the man they were determined to destroy.

    All of those responsible, in any way, for the crimes perpetrated upon this innocent man are now suffering.

    So will be the fate of those who impede a thorough and detailed investigation in this matter. Cognizant of the penalties that await them, if there was wrong doing, as the heat is applied the truth will be gotten at.

    Do not be discouraged during the early phases of ‘whatever it is they got going on’. They will all ‘snap to’ once these proceedings are gotten into the hands of the right people.

  2. This is just incredible! Is there no one to unlock this gridlock? Is the Key West Citizen looking at this incident at all? Besides going to court , is there any Federal charge that could force this case into the open air. as a violation of human rights? It certainly appears that the FDLE is not doing its job- and would we trust them now if they started to.? The KWPD is now disgraced in my eyes. What if this were your brother or father? Is this Iraq now?

    • zobop forget the key west citizen. they even discontinued thier ‘comment’ feature. That news pap-r and pap is what it is is an unworthy community news source. I think they think the comics section is their community contribution but for sure you’ll fine no news of substance there. notice their one and only story on this most unfortunate happening was to tow/mimic the establishment party line only with no further questioning. very sad indeed. but a great fish wrapper!

      • edit: add after ‘comment’ feature..”in the wake of the highly contested channel referundum. seems the key west citizen powers that be are so in bed with the establishment story line that they seen thier comments feature as detrimental to the ‘yes’ vote pushed by the establishment. just can’t have these public opinions presented on these published stories can we now? might influance the vote!”

  3. Well, Mr. coopers previous assertions that most cops are “good” has certainly failed the smell test.

    The fact that public employees will assert their 5th amendment rights in order to prevent an investigation to proceed is anathema to any moral, ethical standard one cares to put forth. it is certainly their right to exercise the 5th, but it is also the right of the people who fund these “officers” to expect them to be immediately removed from duty for doing so. These are public employees, and their work product is public property. There should be no protection for their continued employment if they refuse to provide that work product on demand.

  4. seems this is shaping up to a real pathetic fiasco of ‘stonewall’ from all parties involved in this so called ‘investigation’! individuals have a right to plead the 5th persuant to our united states constitution however if a police officer pleads the 5th they should be on the spot fired from the job of ‘protect and serve’ since the question arises ‘protect and serve’ WHO?

    secondly the union should butt its ass out of the picture in any criminal matter. this isn’t about a pay raise or health benefits or hours worked…its a criminal matter with possible murder charges so where in the world does the union get off with telling the police to plead the 5th.

    so far the fdle is doing just that it would appear. FIDDLING!

    as for the medical examiner needing the police investigation and the fdle investigation to complete his task i would think the tell tale signs of asphyxia would stand out in a crowd however i get the impression he may be looking perhaps hoping for a different outcome and for the life of me i don’t understand why he cannot get mr eimers past med records from his family for the final evaluation of cause of death precluding the need for this police and fdle ‘investigation’ con-job.

    the chief needs get off his backside and be way more pro-active in this case but i sure as hell won’t hold my breath on that one.

    lastly where o where has the city commission gone o where o where can they be! [sung to the tune of where oh where has my little dog gone] need i say more on the subject of thier ‘silence’.

    lastly do the citizens of key west need arm themselves for self protection from rouge elements of the kwpd? or need they organize a militia for self protection against traffic stops?

    to key west authorities…
    GET OFF YOUR ASS AND DO THE RIGHT THING IN THIS MATTER….TELL THE TRUTH NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH!
    and let the chips fall where they may.

  5. Perhaps because I once practiced law and had some dealings with law enforcement and heard stories, I am not surprised over how the investigation of this case has gone so far. Perhaps because I have lived 71 years, regardless of my having practiced law, I am not surprised. Protect and Serve has different meanings, depending on who is being asked. Protect and Serve law enforcement officers, regardless of what they do, is what Protect and Serve means to police benevolent unions and to most law enforcement officers. In this case, we apparently have one KWPD officer, a female office, who called it as she saw it, but now where is she? Is she talking with FDLE? Is she talking with KWPD Chief Donie Lee? Is she talking with Start Attorney Cathy Vogel? Is this female officer going to blow the whistle like Kathy Reitzel did on Monique and Randy Acevedo, and become the State’s star witness? Or is this female officer going to protect and serve her fellow police officers? Time will tell. I wonder if she is a Christian? I wonder if that is chewing on her? I wonder if the other 13 officers are Christians? I wonder if that is chewing on them? I wonder if the police benevolent union advisers are Christians? I wonder if that is chewing on them? I wonder if their lawyer representing the 14 officers is Christian? I wonder if that is chewing on him? These could be viewed as rhetorical questions, although I hope something will make them not rhetorical. Maybe we should not get all strung out about this. Maybe we should say whatever happened to Charles Eimers was his fault, because a KWPD officer suspected Eimers of being homeless. Ergo, all subsequent KWPD action was reasonable under the circumstances. Perhaps we should take comfort knowing karma is inexorable, it cannot be washed out by being a Christian, or by a failed investigation, or by anything human beings can manufacture or believe. The karma in this case might play out in ways hard to connect with the death of Charles Eimers. Karma can be really weird, it can turn pro, it can turn bizarre. As Dennis Reeves Cooper was and still is wont to say, perhaps we should stay tuned … Meanwhile, thank you Arnaud and Naja and whoever shot that video and smuggled it to you, for not letting the KWPD get clean away with it …

    • By Feds do you mean the FBI? If so, haven’t you heard that their mission is no longer law enforcement. It is now “national security”…don’t think this one fits the bill.

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