“I am deeply concerned by the circumstances surrounding the in-custody death of Charles Eimers,” CRB [Citizen Review Board] member Tom Milone said Wednesday.
The controversy about the Thanksgiving morning death on South Beach of 61-year old Charles Eimers continues to grow. Thousands of people have reviewed the video of Charles Eimer’s arrest published by The Blue Paper and have been disturbed by the irreconcilable differences between the events shown in the video and the account initially proffered by the police department.
“There is particular concern over the use of prone restraint,” says Tom Milone, “We’re considering reviewing the procedures in light of the incident with Charles Eimers and the growing concern about the risk of using that method in the sand.” The CRB has asked the police department to explain the existing polices at their next scheduled meeting.
The question, says David Paul Horan, attorney for the Eimers’ family, “is where do you use the prone restraint method? Would you use it in the water? Should you use it in the sand?”
Milone is especially concerned with the risk of asphyxiation. “Because you’re gasping for air, you appear to be resisting police, and they impose more force on you,” he said at the board’s Monday night meeting.
Interestingly enough, the CRB is poised to revisit an issue which twelve years ago was the very reason for its creation: the use of excessive force by Key West Police Officers – and particularly excessive force used against homeless people or people, like Charles Eimers, who were perceived to be homeless.
Use of excessive force by KWPD officers at the time was rampant. One officer, Michael Beerbower had made a name for himself for his particularly poor bedside manner. However the perception at the time was that Buz Dillon, then Chief of Police, was doing little to nothing to curb such behavior.
Then fresh out of law school, attorney Sam Kaufman, took him to task and the tension started growing. Back then Kaufman would receive standing ovations from the inmates when he visited the jail. And then came the big break: Officer Austin, who had been on the force for only 7 months, broke the sacrosanct ‘code of silence’ and Dennis Reeves Cooper, then editor/publisher of Key West The Newspaper was right there week after week reporting the news (and even getting arrested for it himself by the Chief – which brought national attention to the situation.)
Austin spilled the beans on the excessive force used by Officers Ron Ramsey and Michael Beerbower in a July 6, 2000 incident.
“Austin,” wrote Dennis Reeves Cooper, “told investigators that he was holding the handcuffed Stambaugh face down on the ground “when Ramsey came up behind my left shoulder, kneeled next to me, looked in both directions, then gave the defendant another short blast of pepperspray. It took effect immediately.,” Austin said. “The defendant screamed in pain.” Stambaugh was then placed in the back seat of a patrol car. At that point, Beerbower allegedly also paid Stambaugh a little visit. While Austin and other police officers watched, Beerbower allegedly opened the back door of the patrol car and punched Stambaugh in the face with his fist. Stambaugh was still handcuffed and recovering from being peppersprayed. A few minutes later, Beerbower reportedly returned to the car and punched Stambaugh in the face again. Austin told investigators that other officers watching Beerbower batter Stambaugh were shouting to him the word “Clear!” when, apparently, there did not seem to be any witnesses nearby.”
Even after Austin formally reported the story to Internal Affairs investigators, the police department took little or no action.
Sam Kaufman and his group gathered the 1400 signatures required to put a referendum question on the ballot and on November 2, 2002, 60% of voters supported the creation of an independent Citizen Review Board that would investigate complaints against police. The CRB was born.
Last Monday the board made plain that when all of the relevant information is in, it will not shy away from reviewing the death of Charles Eimers, probably the most controversial incident to have hit the KWPD in over a decade.
To access all Blue Paper coverage on the death of Charles Eimers click here.
COMMENT: (contact info for attorney for Charles Eimers’ family: http://www.horan-wallace.com/attorney-profiles/david-horan/)