Monroe County Medical Examiner E. Hunt Scheuerman, MD on Thursday released his preliminary objective report following the autopsy of Charles Eimers.
Charles Eimers, 61, tourist for a day in our island Paradise, died on Thanksgiving day while in the hands of Key West police officers. The arrest took place on South Beach in front of multiple witnesses who reported a scene of violence: tasers being used repeatedly on a man handcuffed facedown in the sand and tackled by 5 or 6 police officers. Eyes bloodshot, face blue, nose and mouth caked up with sand, Eimers stopped breathing and became limp before dying a week later at Lower Keys Medical Center after being taken off life support.
Initial police department communications indicated that Eimers had suddenly collapsed and had doubtless died due to a pre-existing heart condition, which somehow led a doctor at the hospital to declare Eimers’ passing a death from “natural causes”.
This initial explanation is now clearly contradicted by the preliminary autopsy report. Ten ribs were fractured, the neurons in his brain had turned red from lack of oxygen, his trachea showed abnormal reddening. The report also reveals that the airways within the lungs exhibited “linings of tan exudate”. Exudate is a liquid produced by the body in response to tissue damage. Many have speculated that Eimers suffocated in the sand. Could sand have caused tissue damage in his lungs, which would be one more piece of evidence pointing to asphyxiation?
“Not necessarily,” said a physician we interviewed after showing him the coroner’s report, “the only thing this report really does is rule out a heart attack,” he said. “There is an indication of arteriosclerosis. But Eimers had less than 25% obstruction. That would not have caused a problem… The report also indicates there was no acute myocyte necrosis, inflammation or significant myofiber disarray found in the heart tissue. The problem is, this autopsy was performed too long after the incident. The patient was sick for another week at the hospital and then refrigerated for another week prior to autopsy. Most of the indicators would have disappeared by then.”
Another remarkable element revealed in the Medical Examiners report is that apparently the hospital destroyed all of the blood and tissue samples it collected when Eimers’ was admitted to the hospital. This prevents the Medical Examiner from performing more specific tests, which would shed more light on factors used in determining the cause of death.
The disturbing loss of crucial evidence in this case renews the question of possible cover-up:
What should have happened is:
- The family should have been informed immediately.
- Charles Eimers would not have remained hopelessly on life support.
- The body would have been sent immediately to the Medical Examiner for autopsy, together with the blood and tissue samples.
But what actually happened is:
- KWPD made no attempts to reach the family until 4 days after the incident.
- A doctor initially ruled the death one of “natural causes”.
- The body was sent to Dean Lopez for cremation and all of the hospital admission samples were destroyed.
If one combines this scenario with the fact that the officers initially refused to make statements and have yet to cooperate with FDLE investigators, it’s hard not to give some credit to a deliberate cover-up theory.
By law a hospital is obligated to provide the Medical Examiner with every relevant piece of information in a “death in custody” case. How was the hospital supposed to know Charles Eimers was “in custody”?
The Medical Examiner’s report mentions some interesting facts:
- Both wrists are encircled by gauze dressings.
- The dorsum of the right wrist has a 9 by 4 centimeters, red-purple bruise, within which are several, small (maximum 12 by 5 millimeters), brown crusted abrasions.
- The dorsum of the left wrist has a transversely oriented, 12 centimeters long by up to 3 centimeters wide, red-purple bruise. Within this bruise are several, small (up to 7 by 8 millimeters), brown crusted abrasions.
That was the result of having been handcuffed for at least 5 minutes during an altercation with Key West Police officers. As far as the hospital’s knowledge of the “in custody” status of Mr. Eimers goes, shouldn’t those wrist abrasions, which were treated by the hospital with “gauze dressing”, have provided a hint as to the hospital’s duty to inform the Medical Examiner?
Like all plans made by mice and men, any effort to sweep Charles Eimers’ death under the rug was thwarted by a few grains of sand (not the least of which was a timely inquiry by this newspaper). The body escaped cremation by a pure miracle and we now have a preliminary autopsy report. But interestingly enough, we are told that no separate investigation is being conducted regarding the complete and utter breakdown of the system.