Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

The tragic death of a 61-year-old tourist while in the hands of Key West police officers is becoming increasingly controversial.  After suggesting that Charles Eimers had succumbed to pre-existing “very serious heart problems” while resisting arrest, the Chief of Police admitted this week on US 1 Radio that Eimers may have died of asphyxiation.

Thousands have now become aware of a video taken by a bystander of Eimers’ arrest on Thanksgiving Day.  It shows Eimers complying with police, laying down on the beach on his stomach and being handcuffed.  However, within 5 minutes, the retired autoworker and father of four who dreamed of vacationing in Key West was dead.

Now that it is admitted that Eimers didn’t die of a heart attack, but quite possibly of a much more controversial case of asphyxiation, a troubling question arises:  How is it possible that the news of such an event managed to pass almost unnoticed?  Initially we saw only a short statement in the Key West Citizen regarding a man who had collapsed all of a sudden while resisting arrest on South Beach at the end of Duval Street.

Did the police department hope to shove this one under the rug?   Eimers was initially identified by officer Gary Celcer as someone apparently “living out of his car.”  Did they hope he might be one of Key West’s ‘unclaimed homeless’?

Things weren’t going to be so easy.  For one thing, Eimers was on life support, an expensive situation that under Florida law can only be terminated after notifying family members.  Four days after the incident, on December 1st, the police finally contacted Eimers’ family and as it turns out Charles Eimers was not a castaway who had runaground on Key West’s shores.

“I was making arrangements to get on a plane the next day,” says Treavor Eimers, Charles’ son.  From then on things became more and more curious.

“From what the Key West police told me,” says Treavor, “I believed that for some incomprehensible reason my father got out of his car swinging at the police and that he collapsed all of a sudden, probably of a heart attack.”

The video, which appeared two weeks later in The Blue Paper, “was a huge shock,” he said.

In the meantime, Eimers was removed from life support seven days after the arrest and pronounced dead on December 4th.  But even though the case clearly called for an autopsy, the medical examiner was not informed until a week later.  Mysteriously the body was directed to Dean Lopez Funeral Home.   According to Eimers’ son Treavor, the medical examiner blames the hospital, the hospital blames the police.   In any case, the medical examiner informed Eimers’ relatives that his findings may be limited due to the delay of the autopsy.

Of course, all of that could have been accidental.  The following was not.  After Eimers’ death, responding to a tip, we went to interview witnesses on South Beach.  One important witness was absent:  ‘Joelle’, who had been the hostess at the Southernmost Beach Café on Thanksgiving morning.  We took statements from a few people but when we hooked up with Joelle a few days later she told us the KWPD “chief investigator” in Eimers’ case had “ordered” her not to talk to us.  Coworkers told us Joelle had begun to change her version of the Eimers arrest after having lunch with someone who works for the police department.

When we asked the City for the police reports we were given only one, which was released to all media on December 2nd.  But, in fact there were three reports written the day of the incident.  Two reports, one written by officer Kathyann Wanciak and the other by Mathew Johnson (who were on the beach with Eimers that day) were not released or mentioned.  The only report released was written by Officer Gary Celcer, who was not even in the area until after Eimers had already lost consciousness.  That was the report, based on hearsay, that described Eimers as coming out of his car “actively fighting” with police before collapsing while resisting arrest.  However, one of the reports that was initially suppressed actually describes Eimers complying with police orders and mentions a Taser being drawn.  Of the 14 officers on scene, only three initially wrote incident reports.  The others were apparently instructed by the police union not to write anything down.

On December 2nd, 5 days later, Police Chief Donnie Lee became aware of the situation and ordered his officers to write supplemental reports or get fired.  Six officers complied, reluctantly writing brief supplemental reports; one as short as ten lines and they all contained an additional six lines explaining how the report had been written under duress.

Strangely, the two reports by Wanciak and Johnson, which are dated November 28th, include the same statement as the others, declaring they had been written following the Chief’s December 2nd order, while under duress.

So, is there an orchestrated cover-up at the police department?  Most likely not.  The “turmoil” represents, for the most part, the extreme difficulties inherent in this situation:  On the one hand, the Chief is trying to maintain the transparency and the image of the Department and on the other hand, the union lawyers must protect officers against self-incriminating statements or statements which could be used against them.

One might wish the Department would stop being so defensive and take a closer look at their procedures.   Eimers was subjected to what is called “prone restraint”:  The person is lying on his belly while being handcuffed.  This method has become increasingly controversial since studies have found it has been responsible for numerous deaths from “positional asphyxiation”.  A survey released in February 2010 by the Federal Department of Education found that several states have already banned state employees from using the prone restraint method in educational and mental health institutions while others have severely restricted its use.  In England after a series of highly controversial deaths, prone restraint was banned nationwide, even for police departments unless the suspect presents an immediate danger to himself or others. When prone restraint is necessary, the suspect’s condition must be monitored constantly.  The police procedure in Kent, England was amended in June of this year adding a requirement that a safety officer  “[monitor] the person’s position continually whilst being restrained, as death can occur suddenly and develop beyond the point of viable resuscitation within seconds rather than minutes.”

In the U.S. certain states, like Colorado, have issued state-wide bans on the use of “prone restraint” for any non-emergency situation not involving an immediate threat of injury.

There is an abundance of information as well as visual demonstrations on YouTube explaining the risk of asphyxiation associated with the method of restraint used on Eimers.  One factor is particularly striking:  Even the best demonstrations of the ‘prone restraint’ method, videos created by police officers for police officers, show the suspect on his belly on a mat or on a hard floor.  But, what happens when the “suspect” has his head in the sand; when every movement brings more sand into his nose and mouth? Eimers was lying face-down in the sand on South Beach with at least one officer kneeling on his back. Could the intrusion of sand have caused him to panic, giving the impression of resisting arrest?  All of the civilian eyewitnesses we spoke with reported that Charles Eimers’ face was completely caked up with sand, all the way into his nostrils.

We found this interesting statement by a specialist on prone restraint [see video below]:

“If, in addition to your own weight, you have someone kneeling or laying on your back, that increases the amount of weight that you have to raise in order to increase the size of your chest.  The greater the weight resting on the individual’s back and the more severe the degree of compression the more difficult it is for them to breath in.  What happens then occasionally is that the individual begins to have air hunger and oxygen deficiency.  The natural reaction to that is to struggle more violently.  The perception of those persons trying to subdue the individual is that he needs more compression to be subdued.  You then enter a vicious cycle in which compression makes air hunger, air hunger makes a greater struggle, and a greater struggle demands greater compression.  Unfortunately in some of these circumstances the price of tranquility is death.”

To access all Blue Paper coverage of the death of Charles Eimers click here.

Last Updated January 19, 2014


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!


  1. depending on the mullet wrapper for investigative reporting …ahhh don’t hold your breath!
    they even deleted the ‘post comment’ function from thier stories online perhaps to keep the reader further in the dark as to any public sentiment pertaining to island issues especially after the harbor dredging issue.
    that being said….

    gads what a breakthru and enlightement on the chief’s behalf. man turns blue = ASPHYXIATION! and what a pathetic state of affairs for the police ‘mob’ at the scene. surely none of this would have been and the cover story of heart attack and resisting ‘officers of the LAW’ would have stuck as the ‘official party line’….. had it not been for that peskey iphone video. musta been a slow day and got boring busting people for the henious crime of drinking in public and the ‘police’ needed some ‘road rage’ action to really get thier blood flowing. under these circumstances to “protect and serve” begs the question…. WHO?

  2. This is a tragic event and will cost the police department dearly in lost trust and probably a whopping law suit. My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Eimers and the mental state of the officers involved.

  3. “So, is there an orchestrated cover-up at the police department? Most likely not. The “turmoil” represents, for the most part, the extreme difficulties inherent in this situation: On the one hand, the Chief is trying to maintain the transparency and the image of the Department and on the other hand, the union lawyers must protect officers against self-incriminating statements or statements which could be used against them.”

    Was the cover up unorchestrated? Will the unorchestreated cover up continue? Excellent publicity for Key West, compliments KWPD. Billy O’Reilly, you got scooped by The Blue Paper. As did the Key West Citizen and the Keynoter. Where are the important city people who were outraged over O-Reilly’s Key West slam documentary? That was tame compared to what The Blue Paper blew the lid off of. Should Donie Lee give Arnaud and Naja and their family round the clock protection?

    • sloan do you mean the citizen is a ‘real’ newspaper? or only good for wrapping fish? i hope you noticed that the key west citizen ‘phased out/ deleted/ discontinued’ thier comments function a few months ago which was right after the harbor dredging issue was put to rest by 75% of the voters. i made a number of calls to thier IT dept and got lots of lame excuses as to updating and improving etcs. after it was formally gone without any trace i wrote the publisher and editor and asked why would they discontinue such a powerfull tool for balancing and reading as a barometer the public opinion on various story issues of the island and do you know what thier reply was?………a deafening SILENCE! so much for a so called community newspaper….but really terrific for wrapping mullet. bah!

      • yes sgt zamora and was that before or after mr eimers gently lowered himself to his knees and quietly assumed the prone position on his belly with no resistance whatsoever.
        and when he turned blue sgt zamora did you think he was holding his breath for the fun of it?
        a pure disgusting display of extreme excessive force in this writers opinion. disgusting!

      • Thanks for letting me know this. I just copied this on paper and circled his name in red ink.I am going to post it on the entrance of our locker room so everyone can read it. The feces is going to be falling from the sky on this guy.

  4. Police Chief Donnie Lee admits that this innocent individual was killed by depriving him of oxygen. I’m so glad that Lee cleared the air for us, unfortunately he didn’t clear the airways for this man, who was suffocated during a botched arrest by his officers. This death at the hands of the police requires an independent investigation by both the FDLE and the Justice Department. Magnificent Journalism–Outstanding Job Big Blue…My Sincerest Condolences To The “Eimers Family”–My Prayers and Thoughts Will Be With You Aways.

  5. Police Chief Donnie Lee admits that this innocent individual was killed by depriving him of oxygen. I’m so glad that Lee cleared the air for us, unfortunately he didn’t clear the airways for this citizen, who was suffocated during a botched arrest by his officers. This death at the hands of the police requires an independent investigation by both the FDLE and the Justice Department. Magnificent Coverage–Outstanding Investigative Journalism… My sincerest condolences to the Eimers Family–My Heart and Prayers will be with you Always…

  6. This story makes my skin crawl. The subsequent circling of the wagons, censoring a witness, deleted files, coerced statements, mishandling of the remains, negligent conduct, along with the masquerading investigation, doesn’t bode well for the KWPD.

    Mr. Lee would be well advised to immediately get out in front of this tragedy. Simultaneous investigations must be undertaken by the FDLE and Justice. If not, Mr. Lee will become the problem. Those that perjure themselves, obstruct justice or obfuscate from the truth will be severely consequented.

    Even though they knew a mistake was about to be made, the State of Florida was determined to follow through with their execution of an innocent man. Upon failing to be able to carry out their desires, they settled for 3 life terms without the possibility of parole. All to be administered against a man whom they knew not to be guilty. Those who perjured themselves, obstructed justice or obfuscated from the truth; currently reside in cells adjacent to many of the inmates that they tormented.

  7. I’m deeply saddened by every article I read but thank god for this newspaper or known of this would have been public. This fight isn’t over yet ! We still need those who witnessed first hand of what happened to step forward. I’m the youngest son of Charles. And I won’t stop fighting until there is justice. Accountability for what was done to my father.

    • I am at a loss of words for what was done to the man that raised me from the time I was five years old until I was 17. This is a tragic injustice and picturesque example of police brutality at it’s absolute worse! May Charles rest in peace for eternity and his murderers be punished for what they did to him. This is simply heart wrenching.

  8. This is the only news coverage that has really examined this death in detail. As these courageous investigative journalists dig deeper they will identify the Truth. The mickey mouse KWPD and their fearless leader will cave like a house of cards. They will abandon their loyalty to Lee and one another, like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

    Please press on, so that the reason behind this senseless killing will be uncovered. Lee and his cadre of officers are servants of the people. The taxpayers pay their fat salaries and bloated benefits package. They are answerable to the people and the laws that they allegedly enforce. Thank you “Key West The Newspaper”, “The Blue Giant”.

    • FDLE: 305-289-2360. Additonally, please contact us at The Blue Paper if you have further information. We will protect your identity if you request that we do so: Naja Girard: 305-304-6882. And PLEASE if anyone has video – please come forward.

  9. Information given to FDLE might, or might not, end up in public view. Yes, please also give to Naja anything passed on to FDLE.

    To my tired old ex-lawyer’s eyes, this is a homicide, a crime was committed. At the very least, involuntary manslaughter.

    If, as someone asked me today, what if the police were all heated up by what they perceived to be a fleeing criminal? What if they were so heated up they had malice in their hearts? That is more than involuntary manslaughter.

    I commend Chief Lee for telling the public the cause of death was asphyxiation. But to read what is being reported in the Keynoter and the Citizen, and what is being put out by the city and KWPD’s public information person, Alyson Crean, does not encourage me to think a thorough investigation will be done locally. I hope Chief Lee leaves no stone unturned, and lays it all bare in plain view.

    I wonder if State Attorney Cathy Vogel will investigate, then move forward?

    • Cathy Vogel will probably not investigate .If she were to charge this cop the police in this county and others will stop issuing summonses in retaliation.If few or no summonses are issued that means the courts will be emty. If the courts are empty , that means the lawyers offices are empty. Nobody is making any money off of the crime industry. Police do thsi all of the time. You will never read about it. It is the law industries dirty litle secrets.

  10. Pardon me, I don’t live in key West and I do not know the victim or his family, but WHEN ONE SUFFERS WE ALL SUFFER. Charles most definitely suffered when the life was being choked and suffocated out of him by the hands of these murderers. And his family is suffering the loss of their loved one. It should not be up to his family at this time of grief to file law suits and fight bureaucracy. It should be the responsibility of the citizens of Key West who are paying for these murderers to do their rotten deeds. Why are not hundreds of your artists, business owners and others whom rely on tourists like Charles for your livelihoods, marching down to Cathy Vogel’s office with 8×10 photos of Charles DEMANDING a legitimate investigation into this? If the so called adults in the room won’t take this task up as their responsibility then I hope the student body of Key West will rally together to meet after school everyday with Charles’ photo in hand to DEMAND a legitimate investigation. You have to let them know that you will not tolerate this behavior! And if you stay silent on this one, the next murder by cop will be on your hands.

  11. Donnelly saved the life of a wrongfully condemned man. Furthermore, he was the force that extinguished several life sentences that were going to be imposed upon this innocent man, in lieu of killing him.

    I examined the details of an intricate and exhaustive investigation that he conducted. Through his systematic analysis of the data, evidence was extracted that resulted in freeing a man whose life had been deemed valueless. Donnelly’s brilliantly detailed briefs were well received by the court.

    Although not an attorney, there are members of the Innocence Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center that hold him in high regard.

    I’m certain that he would lend aide to the family, if they wanted him to scrutinizing the record of this horrible event.

    My comment was triggered when I became aware that John Donnelly is a ‘columnist’ for your newspaper. You made a good choice.

    As this unfortunate and unnecessary tragedy plays itself out, perhaps you might broach my suggestion with him.

  12. A new law will not affect what happened. All that will affect what happened is a real investigation and all the facts becoming public knowledge. If that happens, it will be because of the blue paper. It seems there still are eye-witnesses who have not come forward. What does the entire video taken by the bystander look like? Only a segment was slipped to the blue paper, and I understand it is not known who shot the video. Based on my past experience as a lawyer and as a human, not the same thing, the KWPD will circle the wagons tight, cops who know what really went down will not tell it, either out of loyalty to the the police brotherhood, or out of fear of reprisal from KWPD officials or other cops.

    What do you call it when cops with guns drawn force an unarmed suspected homeless man to lie face down on a beach and they close in on him and grab him and cuff him and one cop puts a knee into the face-down man’s shoulder and the face-down man suffocates and dies? What if he had been in water instead. Would that have made it different?

    Definitely, it is homicide, not suicide, not death from natural or self-inflicted causes. Perhaps it’s better to call it homicide, which sounds bad enough.

    Cathy Vogel, ultimately, will decide whether or not to prosecute, and whom to prosecute, and what kind of homicide to call it. If Vogel does not go forward, perhaps the Florida Department of Legal Enforcement, or the dead man’s bereaved family will be able to persuade Governor Scott to appoint a Special Prosecutor in investigate and then decide whether or not to prosecute and for what crime.

    I doubt we have heard all the bad news yet, and I imagine we will be learning about that in future issues of the blue paper. This kind of case and the blue paper’s investigating and reporting is what Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism are awarded for.

    I imagine the KW Chamber of Commerce, the Tourist Development Council, Key West business owners Eliot Baron, and the city commissioners and mayor are thrilled for the city to receive this much publicity – Facebook is eating it up, I hear. Makes the Bill O/Reilly documentary slamming Key West seem like a Nobel Peace Prize in comparison.

  13. Hey Key West police, The Feds are coming. They will most likely come in the back door but they are coming. Make sure that waitress stays in great health till they get there. How can a bunch of professionally trained police keep performing like this?????
    Hey Chief , you need to do something proper !!!!

  14. Two of my readers at http://www.goodmorningkeywest.com, who have been following the blue paper’s and my rumblings on the Thanksgiving Day homicide, wrote to me today:

    Reader 1, in North Carolina, vacationed frequently in Key West, when his wife was alive:

    SLOAN – I have read your thoughts, and others, on the KW police and the death of the one-day tourist. If the allegations, which seem legit. are close to the truth, Who ever the “tough guy” is that put the old guys head in the sand, and probably some of his by-stander helpers need some state paid vacation time in the prison farm. If the allegations are accurate, and the ongoing treatment of the homeless by KW police are accurate, someone… City Council, Mayor, City Manager, Police Chief needs to clean house in the KW police force. From a distance the police force seems out of control……an over the top, sadistic approach in dealing with defenseless people is not good for a town that depends heavily on tourists to put shoes on the baby.
    Regards, Ron K.

    Reader 2, in Nashville, has never been to Key West as far as I know.

    Wishing you a Happy New Year and hoping that the Angels will give you a rest on occassion.

    I have an AWARD WINNING idea based on the below quote from Police Chief Lee !

    “We’re waiting and we want answers just as bad as everyone else does,” said Police Chief Lee. “Based on what I know so far, I don’t think the officers acted inappropriately. As in any situation like this, once FDLE completes their investigation, we will do an internal affairs investigation to look into what happened.”

    OK, now, the AWARD WINNING idea:

    Get 13 of your toughest friends – some male and a few female. That will make 14 of you in total.

    Meet Police Chief Lee at South Beach. Have him drive his police car – when he arrives – play like you draw your guns and order him out of the car – hands behind his head – then order him to lay face down on the sand. (MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW AS CLOSELY AS POSSIBLE EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED ON THE TAPE)

    NOW, as he is laying face down in the sand – four of you go up and handcuff his hands behind his back – as three of you hold his legs and arms – the other one put his knee on the top of his shoulder and press his face even further into the sand.

    As he starts kicking his legs and squirming because he can not breath – due to his face being buried in the sand – all of you start yelling for Police Chief Lee to stop resisting – stop resisting. Make sure you keep Chief Lee’s face buried in the sand – mouth and nose covered so he can get no air.

    As he goes limp and turns blue – someone say – he has turned blue and another immediately start to remove the handcuffs – MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW PROPER PROCEDURE – as you turn him over and find out that he is not breathing and getting bluer. Have someone get a machine to shock him in case he is having a heart attack – when the machine says he does not need to be shocked (REGARDLESS OF THE FACT THAT HE IS NOT BREATHING AND GETTING BLUEer) turn the machine off and call an ambulance.

    NOW – call his family – and say you are sorry but Police Chief Lee died in a reinactment. Assure them that everyone FOLLOWED PROPER PROCEDURE and that “Based on what you know so far, You don’t think your friends acted inappropriately.

    Let me know how that turns out and when you and your 13 friends trials are scheduled.

    Happy New Year!


  15. that’s funny because I know a couple of people that have tried to contact FDLE and they aren’t returning phone calls!! I don’t know how the officers involved in this case & LEE can sleep at night! my heart goes out to Charles Eimers & his entire family. I hope & pray justice will be served & Key West as a community doesn’t let this family suffer anymore than they already are! come on people in paradise (some paradise) WAKE UP!! What if it was your father, brother or son? Somebody out there knows something! & “joelle” whoever you are nothing you were offered could be worth this mans life!! 11 officers lied there should be 11 openings at the KWPD!! Go Blue Paper thanks for caring enough to uncover this horrific hole of lies & hatred! protect & serve yea ok!!

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