The Florida Department of Law Enforcement [FDLE] is apparently beginning to feel the heat about the agency’s handling of the Charles Eimers death investigation. Last week the agency dropped its eternal “no comment” rhetoric and tried to convince the press that there is no conflict of interest between FDLE and KWPD in connection with the case.
Both Keynoter and CBS reporters received statements from FDLE attempting to explain away the controversial appointment of FDLE’s Kathy Smith as the lead investigator in this case about possible use of excessive force and subsequent cover-up by Key West police officers. The officers involved were under the supervision of Captain Scott Smith. Captain Smith is Kathy Smith’s ex-husband and the father of her child.
After reviewing policies sent by FDLE, the Keynoter headlined its article: FDLE: No Conflict In Agent Leading Probe of Man’s Death Even Though Investigation Involves Her Ex-husband. However, when FDLE forwarded its conflict of interest policies to the media, it conveniently left out the one which speaks directly to the issue: Rule 7.1 of FDLE’s “Ethical Standards of Conduct,” reviewable on their website. It reads:
“Police officers shall, unless required by law or policy, refrain from becoming involved in official matters, or influencing actions of other police officers in official matters, impacting the officer’s immediate family, relatives, or persons with whom the officer has or has had a significant personal relationship.”
It is difficult to comprehend how FDLE could find that being the ex-wife and mother of the child of one of the subjects of an investigation does not fall under the clear prohibition set out by FDLE’s Rule 7.1.
Does law enforcement’s quest for the truth about Charles Eimers’ death merely have an ‘appearance of impropriety’ or is there in fact an across the board disregard for the process and policies which should be guiding the investigation?
The Blue Paper has attempted to compare what we know now about how the investigation has been conducted with how it should have been conducted under official policies.
According to an eye-witness, a tourist from Kentucky, one of the first things KWPD officers did, even before Charles Eimers was taken away in an ambulance, was to drive away the people who were standing on the pier. Our witness says he saw Eimers “give up,” and that he was “incredibly calm.” When we asked if he knew why the police had cleared the pier of witnesses he answered, “Things weren’t going too well for the police at that point.”
The pier was one of the best points of observation for what was unfolding on the beach between Eimers and police officers. In fact, bystanders at that location had shot at least two cell phone videos showing the arrest. Dispersing those witnesses, however, was in direct contradiction with KWPD policies. In such situations, when a suspect is injured or dies during an arrest, Policy 02.08.07 requires that, “Everyone at the scene, even if they state they didn’t witness the event, is separated and identified”. Another policy requires “Collecting the name of witnesses and other members for reporting purposes.”
Not only did police officers reportedly chase all of the witnesses from the pier and not get their names and contact information, but according to another source they didn’t even take the names and addresses of the very vocal group of New York police officers who, from the beachside restaurant, had engaged in a heated argument with police. One of those NY police officers reportedly exclaimed, “This is legalized murder on the beach.” According to our source, a KWPD officer reacted by threatening him with arrest for ‘interfering with police work’. “I was really worried there was going to be a confrontation,” said one of the employees. The same source confirmed that no contact information was collected from the New York officers before they left.
Following the dispersal of witnesses on the pier, some KWPD officers who were involved in the arrest were seen questioning other witnesses. One of those officers was officer Nicholas Galbo who had been holding Eimers’ legs down when Eimers turned blue and lost consciousness.
You would think there would be something remiss about allowing an officer who had been involved in possible use of excessive force to go around collecting statements, and you would be right. In fact, under KWPD Policy 02.08.07.02(G) Separation:
“The involved member(s) should be separated and moved away from the center of activity.”
The officer who should be conducting the immediate collection of written statements is the supervisor who, under KWPD Policy, must “speak with every witness and obtain their written statements.”
However this didn’t happen either. Officers involved in the controversial arrest were allowed to communicate with potential adverse witnesses. Witnesses reported they felt threatened and were told that their “record would be scrutinized.” One witness claims he was told he was unfit to be a witness and that interviewing officers refused to take his statement. Only two written witness statements were filed. Those statements were collected by Officer Galbo and were not about the arrest but about the car chase.
One more thing: Under Policy 02.08.06 every officer on scene has a duty to make sure “appropriate medical attention is provided to any person who sustains an apparent substantial or potentially fatal injury” yet at the crucial moment, when medical personnel arrived on scene to save Charles Eimers’ life, instead of reporting the true nature of the violent arrest and possible asphyxiation, medical professionals were told Eimers, “got out of car and proceeded to flee from the police while running on the beach away from law enforcement and patient collapsed. Patient was found without a pulse by police.” This statement is flatly contradicted by the video captured by a bystander. Arguably, misguiding emergency medical personnel was not the best way to guarantee “appropriate” medical attention.
The KWPD supervisor is also required to “ensure that any physical evidence is preserved and/or collected,” but not only was the hospital allowed to destroy all of the lab specimens collected, but Mr. Eimers’ body was nearly cremated before autopsy.
Finally, there is no specific policy regarding intimidation of witnesses, but somehow local management of the $ 184 Million dollar South Beach resort was also influenced. Employees repeatedly told The Blue Paper, CBS producers, and the Eimers family attorneys that they had been ordered not to talk or they would be fired. It took an announcement from corporate headquarters at the highest level to notify the employees that they were free to make any statements they wanted without fear of retribution. We have yet to understand how the “you will be fired” threat came to be and whether it was linked in any way to KWPD.
Chief of Police, Donie Lee, has repeatedly expressed frustration at the type of coverage The Blue Paper and others have given the Eimers case. “There is an awful lot of speculation, rumors, and innuendo,” he claimed this week on US 1 Radio’s Morning Magazine. According to the Chief, it’s “unfair” and members of the press should sit tight and wait for the results of the FDLE investigation.
With all due respect, without press coverage, Mr. Eimers’ body would have been cremated prior to autopsy. This week FDLE has finally scheduled an interview with a witness who shared information with The Blue Paper and who has, for nearly five months, repeatedly tried to give FDLE a statement. There is reason to believe this may be the first witness, other than the police officers, to be questioned by FDLE is this case.
Contrary to the Chief’s opinion, The Blue Paper has no unfair agenda aimed at the police department. This is unpleasant work, but someone has to do it.
For access to all Blue Paper coverage on the death of Charles Eimers click here.