Dec 042015
 

Eimers Vigil

Commentary by Naja and Arnaud Girard…….

Two years ago, on Thanksgiving morning, paramedics were called to assist an old man on South Beach. KWPD officers on scene told them that the man had been running away from police on the beach and had suddenly collapsed in the sand and when they got to him he had no pulse and they began CPR.

An investigation by The Blue Paper was going to bring to light a very different story, including two bystander videos showing the suspect, 61-year-old Charles Eimers, being held facedown in the sand by several police officers prior to losing consciousness. He would die in the hospital a week later after being taken off life support. The incident and subsequent accusations of cover-up brought Key West considerable national media attention.

Has the police department made any changes to its policies? Could this happen again?

A review of KWPD policies shows that the section on prone restraint has been amended. One of the main criticisms brought by the Eimers’ family attorneys was their view of the incident as an indiscriminate use of the high risk prone restraint method on a beach, which they claimed resulted in smothering Eimers in the sand. “Would you use [prone restraint] in the mud? What about in water?” asked local attorney David Paul Horan at the time.

KWPD General Order 03.15.02.04 now requires that an officer constantly check to be sure that the subject is still breathing if the subject is being handcuffed in a prone position.

prone restraint directives

 

Lack of transparency was also a major issue. Dash-cam videos were inexplicably erased or disappeared along with Taser video which may or may not have been tampered with. The audio from all but one officer’s external mic turned up missing, eyewitnesses were dispersed without being asked for their contact information. Other witnesses claimed they were intimidated or ignored and at least one tow truck driver claimed the police was made aware of a third video that was never found.

Since then every officer has been equipped with a body-worn camera. There were questions as to whether officers would actually use the cameras. The Blue Paper has since investigated several complaints made by citizens who claimed some impropriety in their interactions with Key West Police. Each time the body cameras have provided extremely good footage of the incident. In nearly all instances we reviewed, the officers appeared to us as extremely patient and professional. In one instance – a complaint of unjustified tenant eviction in the middle of the night – officers are seen helping the tenant carrying his belongings to his car and generally showing compassion for the subject’s unfortunate predicament. Obviously there is no guarantee that an officer who is about to abuse his authority will first turn his bodycam on or that incriminating footage is not going to mysteriously disappear, but so far the equipment has helped dispel many complaints and evidenced a high level of professionalism on the part of officers.

While covering the Eimers case, The Blue Paper also obtained and published two shocking videos showing suspects being strip-searched in the middle of the street in Bahama Village. This humiliating practice was thereafter determined to be unlawful by the Department. The Chief had the entire force retrained, clarifying that the practice was prohibited.

So, have all the problems identified in the Eimers tragedy been addressed and solved? Not quite. At the time one of the claims attorneys for the Eimers family made was that the City of Key West has a custom and policy of treating homeless persons more harshly than tourists. That custom, they said, caused Charles Eimers [who was living out of his car and perceived to be homeless] to be treated with excessive force. It is unclear whether the police department has internally taken any action in this regard.

At an ACLU sponsored forum earlier this year, Assistant Public Defender, Patricia Gibson, stated that selective enforcement is still the rule in Key West when it comes to enforcing laws about public drinking and intoxication.

Sheriff Rick Ramsay told The Blue Paper that 25 to 30 percent of inmates at the jail are homeless. “This is nothing against KWPD,” says the Sheriff, “but we need to focus on solutions.”  Criminalizing homelessness is futile he explains, “It’s a revolving door.” According to Sheriff Ramsay, jailing the homeless doesn’t solve social problems. “It creates new problems,” he said, “Being homeless is not a crime.”

Arguably, as long as Key West continues to ask its police officers to enforce two different sets of rules based on prejudice, there will continue to be a risk that such “parallel justice” will get out of hand or cause another tragedy. But in all fairness, the blame will not lie solely with the police force…

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To access all Blue Paper coverage on the in-custody death of Charles Eimers click here.

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Arnaud and Naja Girard

Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.


  9 Responses to “Eimers Death In Custody. Could It Happen Again?”

  1. Is the state still investigating the death of Charles Elmers and the tasing of Shawn Murphy? Anything new with the Shawn Murphy lawsuit?

  2. So the answer to your article seems to be “no” everything is fixed, as proved by helpful actions recorded on the body cams that are working and have been turned in.
    Okay, so good. Problem solved.
    So why am I not convinced? Maybe because the Eimers killers are still on the force???
    Sorry but this article is lame.

  3. The easy truthful answer is yes it will happen again because the cops got away with perjury, evidence tampering, brutal force and kept jobs.

    A turned off cam is of no value. The cams must be kept turned on full time while on duty. If that requires extra battery packs then provide them but the on off switch needs removed. Can we trust a KWPD cop ? HELL NO

    I too would like to know where the feds are in the 2 cases.

    Cops are starting to face murder charges because of cams.

    Do your part and anytime you see a cop making any attempt to arrest or even question anyone start your video. Had it not been for such action the Eimers case would got covered up.

    And do not give the recording to anyone but the Blue paper. We can trust them to handle it. If nothing wrong ends up with the arrest then just erase it. Am sure in 99.9 % of the cases the cops follow the law but that is not enough. Help get the bad ones fired or in prison.

    The cam can do just as much to help the cop as it can the suspect. So why would a cop not want them on ?

  4. I don’t expect any state-level or federal action in the Eimers case.

    I return to what I have written many times here at the blue paper, at at my own website, and have stated during citizen comments at city commission meetings. The problem, as Naja and Arnaud said at the end of their article, cannot all be laid on KWPD. They get their orders from the top, and I don’t mean the city manager. I mean the mayor and the six city commissioners. Did any of them, or have any of the 3 new city commissioners, said even one word about anything being wrong in KWPD? There you have it, and there is where the pressure should be applied. If you don’t go to city commission meetings and tell them yourself, if you don’t actively campaign against the mayor and the city commissioners when they come up for reelection, then what’s the point in your chronic complaining at the blue paper about KWPD?

    • Meanwhile, it sure looks to me the blue paper, that is, Arnaud and Naja, have single-handed forced KWPD to make needed changes KWPD would not have made but for their courageous reporting. Naja and Arnaud did not say in this article, that people in Bahama Village have told them things KWPD and Bahama Village residents are much better, thanks to blue paper reporting.

      • As for the double standard, acting under orders from the top, KWPD does treat homeless people differently. The county jail is Key West’s alternate homeless shelter. Not only for housing and feeding homeless people, but for detoxing them. Probably 95 percent of homeless people taken to jail are addicts, mainly booze, actively using. Many of them have medical problems in need of treatment. All of which increases the Sheriff’s cost of having them in his jail, costs not reimbursed out of the Key West city treasury. Key West needs its own drunk tank, in which to toss its drunk homeless people for a few hours, under the Marchman Act, then release them. If KWPD treated every drunk in Key West the way it treats homeless people arrested for open container, the Sheriff’s homeless shelter, er jail, would have to be a whole lot bigger.

  5. “the officers appeared to us as extremely patient and professional.” Be careful. The devil many times is nice and like friend.

    • In most cases I must agree and to be a cop in a 365 day a year party town takes a certain type of person. They are dealing with many intoxicated people every day. But like anyone they make a few mistakes and misuse that badge. The results can be deadly and was for Mr Eimers. Anyone that watched all the video and followed this case can clearly see a man that tried to surrender. They far over reacted and we seen the results. The real problem was how they dealt with the results. Everything from evidence tampering, perjury and false statements were the results. Why is simple , they were facing murder charges and did a fine BUBBA job to try and cover it all up. And if the feds back off then they got away with murder. KW is a very corrupt little town and all tourist usually see is a few arrests. What they don’t see is what is going on in all of the KW government.
      KW has a lot of problems that might never go away. What we seen 20 years ago was a lot of homeless drunks walking or passed out drunk on Duval st and if a cop seen them they would tell his friends to drag him out of site. Much cheaper way on the city to handle it that way. Yes this problem is cleaned up and at a high cost to tax payers. In most cases they actually help them by getting them food , medical and a bath but they end up back on the street in a short time.

      My only regrets out of the Eimers case is the family settled too easy and for far too little. They should have received several million and demanded prison terms for some of the cops. Had that happened the voters and tax payers might have cleaned house.

      Maybe now some good will come out in the future as they now know many cell phone cams are recording and they could end up not only fired but in prison.

      The Eimers case does seem closed now but will never be forgot.

      As a tourist yes be very careful while in KW because you have some very corrupt cops that stop short of nothing, not even murder.

      What impact this case did to the economy of KW is hard to tell.

  6. No effect on the KW economy, judging from what I see going on in Key West daily. I’d be surprised to learn over 100 people living in Key West really care what happened to Charles Eimers. As far as I know, I’m the only person living here who confronted the mayor and city commissioners at city commission meetings. The city’s Citizen Review Board, despite some members reluctance, asked the FBI to investigate the Eimers case. I also thought the $900,000 settlement was too low, but I can’t blame the Eimers family for wanting to get it over with and be done with Key West and its fake we are all created equal members of one human family, which Charles Eimers sure proved ain’t so. He told the cop who arrested him for illegally changing lanes on North Roosevelt Blvd, that he had come here to do God’s work, which, with the blue paper’s help, he then did from the grave. Now KWPD officers have body cameras, and Charles is still dead, and I still have not seen remorse from the mayor and the city commissioners on whose watch their police killed Charles. What does that say about those elected officials? What does that say about Key West? It says to me KWPD can do no wrong. Might be a good idea to keep that ever in mind. It’s why I several times promoted KWPD being disbanded and Sheriff Rick Ramsay being paid by Key West to provide police protection here, like he does everywhere else in the Florida Keys, except Key Colony Beach, which has its own police department, adjacent to Marathon.