No trial yet, but the weeklong depositions of Key West police officers involved in the in-custody death of Charles Eimers were filled with eye-popping revelations and admissions about possible excessive force and cover-up. Officers had to admit that only one of the long-awaited 9 [or so] police cruiser dashcam external microphone recordings is available, multiple dashcam videos have gone missing, and crucial footage captured by Officer Gary Lee Lovette’s Taser has been erased. Finally, allegations surfaced that a witness saw police officers on scene deleting a second bystander video that showed footage of the entire arrest. Officers’ testimony also confirmed a tense altercation had occurred on scene between a KWPD officer and a vacationing New York police officer who had described what he saw as “legalized murder on the beach.”
The death of the 61-year old tourist, Charles Eimers, while in the hands of Key West police officers captured national attention last year. Eimers was dead before the end of the first day of his vacation in Key West. CBS News reported his “Death in Paradise” after a bystander video was published in The Blue Paper contradicting the police department’s official version of events. As it turned out Eimers had not collapsed from a heart attack while running away from the police as was originally reported by KWPD. Rather, the Medical Examiner listed his struggle, beneath the weight of multiple police officers, as a contributing factor in his death.
And this week, the six-foot tall, 220-pound [on average] officers were tip-toeing around the difficult exercise of demonstrating to the Eimers family attorneys that they could not have suffocated the old man and actually had done everything by the book.
Officers Gary Lovette, Thaddeus Calvert, Gustavo Medina, Henry Delvalle, Kathy Ann Wanciak, Gabriel Garrido, Todd Stevens, and Pablo Rodriguez showed up for their depositions at the federal courthouse where the evidence of cover-up often trumped the excessive force issue.
More Missing Recordings
Obviously frustrated by the disappearance of so much direct and critical evidence, Eimers family attorney, Robert McKee, had strong words during the depositions, “Wouldn’t you agree that deliberate destruction of evidence is a crime?” he asked KWPD former detective Todd Stevens on Thursday. “Yes,” said Stevens. “And that the failure to collect evidence in connection with a possible murder case is also a wrong?” “If it’s intentional,” agreed Stevens. This issue surfaced repeatedly throughout the week.
Officer Lovette admitted that he had activated his Taser video during the arrest. “Can you think of any more objective piece of evidence as to what happened on the beach?” asked David Brill, one of the Eimers family attorneys. Officer Lovette agreed, but said he had no idea how the Taser video showing the actual arrest had been erased. Strangely enough other incriminating footage was still intact, including some that was captured when Lovette inadvertently recorded his own private conversations. He is heard admitting it was an “in-custody murder,” to having “dropped like a f***ing” bomb on his [Eimers’] head” and advising fellow officers that they “should all get together and work that shit out” [referring to writing up their supplemental reports], and “we might as well just bury him” [rather than taking him to the hospital].
Interestingly, Lovette’s dashcam video also disappeared. Lovette testified that not only was the dashcam on and recording that morning, but also that he personally reviewed the video at the police station not long after the incident. However, he testified that at that time the end of it had been missing and nothing pertaining to the area of the arrest at South Beach was there. “It cut off for an unknown reason. I don’t know why,” said Lovette, “ I remember watching it and saying, ‘Where is the rest of it?’” “Did you complain?” asked Brill. “No, but I was under the impression that the entire incident had been recorded,” Lovette stated.
But the mystery gets darker. In fact, according to the Eimers family attorneys, David Paul Horan and Darren Horan, the Police Department now claims that Lovette’s dashcam video of the Eimers incident does not exist; they are unable to produce even the shortened version Lovette claims he had reviewed.
When it was Officer Garrido’s turn to testify, again we learned that his dashcam video had mysteriously disappeared. Officer Wanciak’s microphone was “out of battery power” and all in all, in spite of the fact that a Sergeant is heard on the police radio ordering all of the officers to activate their dashcam systems, only one external mic recording has been turned over for the approximately 9 officers who responded. Officer Medina’s external mic provided some audio but curiously the sound becomes garbled immediately after Officer Garrido is heard screaming. That is the moment when Garrido got his finger caught in his own cuff and, according to the Eimers’ family attorneys, it was the beginning of Eimers’ “resistance” and his impending demise.
The disappearance of civilian witnesses was another recurrent theme. Every officer testified that they were well aware that the contact information of every person present was to be recorded. According to Todd Stevens, they were supposed to be “stopping people from leaving the scene who might have been witnesses.” Officer Delvalle however admitted to having chased away the witnesses on the pier where tourists had captured two videos.
“Are you aware,” asked Brill, “that a witness observed two police officers walk toward a tourist who had recorded video on the pier and delete his video?” [That would be the second video, the one captured by a man seen walking down the pier filming in the first video published by The Blue Paper two weeks after Eimers’ death.]
Similarly, Officer Kathy Ann Wanciak confirmed that, in the area of the restaurant, she had had a confrontation with a visiting New York police officer who had claimed that KWPD officers had “murdered” Eimers. Wanciak, however, didn’t have him fill out a witness statement form or take his contact information. She denied having threatened to arrest the man; a statement contradicted by civilian witnesses. That particularly valuable witness has not been found to this day.
“Isn’t it true that not taking his information lends to covering up the incident?” asked McKee. “Yes,” answered Officer Thaddeus Calvert when questioned about Wanciak’s inaction.
What Happened On the Beach
The embattled Officer Lovette was often at a loss in trying to explain away the incriminating statements he’d made about his and Officer Gabriel Garrido’s involvement. On the Taser video when asked who had roughed Eimers up – Lovette responds “mostly me” and when asked who killed [Charles Eimers] he is heard responding, “Gabe.”
He did however make some striking admissions during his deposition. David Brill got on his knees, hands behind his head, simulating the position Eimers was first ordered to take, as shown in the video. “Would you ask me to get on my stomach on the sand?” asked the attorney. “Personally, no,” said Lovette, “I would walk behind you and handcuff your hands behind your back.”
As to whether pain inflicted upon Eimers during handcuffing could have triggered a violent reaction, both Lovette and Delvalle seemed to agree. “Bringing the arm from underneath – could it be painful?” asked Brill. “Absolutely, ” said Lovette. “If someone had been pulling your arm backward without bending at the elbow would you be yelling and maybe very upset?” asked McKee. “Of course, I imagine I would be,” said Delvalle.
Garrido, who had placed the handcuffs on Eimers, couldn’t explain why a regulation-tight handcuff would not allow his finger to come free, “Gabe was screaming like a girl,” Lovette had said on the Taser video. His finger was stuck for maybe 3-5 seconds according to Officer Delvalle. [Regulation-tight handcuffs require clearance equal to about a pinky width between the wrist and the bracelet.] Hospital records show Eimers’ wrists were deeply lacerated.
During his deposition, Lovette admitted to having his right shin across Eimers left shoulder onto his back and his left leg next to his head. [He’d testified to FDLE agents that he’d had two knees on Eimers’ back] While reviewing the video taken by the tourist where one officer [not yet identified] is seen with both knees on Eimers back, Lovette admitted, “having two knees, that seems like it would be a little excessive.”
When asked whether anyone was checking on Eimers’ vital signs, Lovette admitted that he had not done so and had not seen any other officers doing so either. “Can you really dispute that Eimers was resisting for the purpose of being able to breathe?” asked Brill. “Is it a possibility? Absolutely,” said Lovette.
In the end, the City’s defense appears to be that the officers did everything by the book and they would do it exactly the same way next time [in spite of the Grand Jury’s consensus regarding certain officers lack of empathy and the need to provide “immediate sensitivity training.”]
For Eimers family attorneys, their client was simply reacting to unnecessary pain wrongly inflicted by the officers, was fighting to breathe and, through no fault of his own, died as a result of the officers’ rough treatment and complete lack of empathy.
“It could have all been avoided by simply asking for Eimers’ cooperation. It all began with Garrido’s rough handcuffing method,” says McKee. What appears to have followed was panic, reaction, and ultimately suffocation and/or cardiac arrest.
Could it be that Garrido was just angry and full of adrenalin?” asked McKee of Officer Thaddeus Calvert. “Is it possible? Yes it’s possible.”
To access all Blue Paper articles on the death of Charles Eimers click here.
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