by Arnaud and Naja Girard
“I saw an officer kneeling in front of the man with a knee on his back and he was holding the man’s head down in the sand. The man had a reflex lift of legs once head pushed down. One of the officers had placed a small black device on the man’s back after the lift of legs […] The female officer then started walking away from the scene, shaking her head.” [See bystander video here.]
This statement was given this week by a tourist from Maryland [We’ll call her “M”] who was having breakfast at the Southernmost Beach Café last Thanksgiving Day. The man she describes was Charles Eimers, who would soon die in police custody.
“The man,” she continues, “did not move for a minute and then the officers backed away from the man and turned him over in the direction of my view. The man’s lips were bright pinkish-red and his face was blue and coated with sand. I could see the sand was covering his face and nostrils. I saw blood on the man’s head. He was not moving. […] Everyone either gasped or negative comments were yelled.”
The witness, who works within the U.S District Court system in Maryland, wrote that after ten minutes she walked out through the cafe’s Duval Street entrance. “I was in shock from the scene on the beach and was shaking and crying.” To anyone who asked her a question she only said, “The police just killed a man.”
This comes in sharp contrast to KWPD’s attorney’s view of the case that has been filed against the officers and the City in federal court. They argue that what happened to Charles Eimers is not really that egregious because [and we are not making this up] the officers didn’t even high-five each other over his dead body. For some reason this argument inspired the Key West Citizen to headline an article with “Allegations Overblown In Eimers Death.”
“This is only the beginning,” says David Paul Horan, referring to the discovery of the unexpected new witness. David Horan [along with his son Darren] represents the Eimers family in the wrongful death suit filed in April. “Soon we’ll be able to subpoena credit card slips for that morning and track down even more witnesses.” The Horans are particularly interested in speaking with a group of New York police officers who were on vacation and having breakfast at the beachside café that morning. According to a café employee one of those officers had yelled out, “This is legalized murder on the beach!”
Another interesting element in the Maryland witnesses’ statement is the reference to a mysterious “small black device on the man’s back.” This could hardly describe a standard Taser X26 used by Key West police officers which is in the shape of a large black and yellow hand gun, but it could explain the mystery of the multiple shocks described by many witnesses. According to the KWPD, no shocks were recorded on any of the officers’ Tasers. Each X26 has a data port that records every deployment of the Taser. The Blue Paper has spoken with a local eyewitness who claims to have observed a KWPD officer threatening him with a ‘stun gun’ – unmistakably different from a official Taser X26, the only shock device that on duty KWPD officers are allowed to carry. Obviously the practice of carrying a “personal piece” would save the officer from filling out reports as well as from oversight. If such an undeclared ‘stun gun’ were used during Eimers arrest, there would be no record of it.
According to Taser International, a Taser blast creates an intense muscular contraction that requires heavy breathing. Arguably, a shock from a stun gun could considerably shorten the time for fatal asphyxiation to occur.
“M” also provided a clear picture of the reaction of the numerous witnesses who were sitting at the restaurant that morning. According to “M”, the hostility towards police was unmistakable. They yelled, “Did you at least call an ambulance?” People were openly “commenting that they (police) murdered him.”
In “M”s opinion, “there was definite excessive police force used that day during that arrest. The prone restraint used by the officers was not necessary that day on that beach. KWPD should never use prone restraint again on sand, or in mud, or in water.”
In such a hostile environment, it is not surprising that police thought it better not to collect contact information for civilian eyewitnesses but rather to disperse everyone from the scene. It would also explain why the two KWPD ‘investigators’ who came to interview [or reportedly – intimidate] the employee witnesses let people believe they were FDLE agents.
With FDLE expected to soon hand over the final report of its investigation to the State Attorney, one wonders about how well the investigation was conducted. One fact brought out in M’s statement is alarming:
“On January 30, 2014, I contacted the FDLE-Carol Frederick and left a voice message with my name and phone number. I have verification to this fact on a phone bill. I never received any calls or messages concerning this incident from FDLE or anyone else.”
Now, this is the same criticism we’ve heard from other witnesses who contacted The Blue Paper. Some of the witnesses we spoke to say they tried for months to speak with FDLE agents to no avail. Others, workers at the café who saw everything, have never been contacted by FDLE agents at all. Just yesterday we received this message from one such eyewitness, “They don’t want to interview me… it’s weird. I had the best view from beginning to end and no one cares.”
“The staff and patrons standing at Duval Street entrance,” says “M”, “watched and recorded / took pictures with their cell phones. We continued to watch the scene for about 10 minutes. I left the restaurant […] no officer tried to stop us or any other patrons of the café.”
It is hard not to wonder what happened to all of those videos – especially the ones taken by employees. People, who we at The Blue Paper interviewed, told us they had been instructed by KWPD ‘investigators’ not to talk about what happened.
There seems to be a pattern in these excessive force cases, with officers systematically disregarding independent civilian witnesses. In the case of Matthew Shaun Murphy, who is still in a hospital bed after being tased by a KWPD officer on Duval Street three years ago, as well as in the Eimers case, law enforcement failed to take eyewitness contact information and FDLE failed to interview civilian witnesses, concentrating only on the police officers who had immediately overwhelmed the crime scene and who were the only witnesses FDLE showed any interest in interviewing.
Under strict KWPD policy, all persons present were supposed to be identified and kept separate from each other until FDLE investigators arrived. FDLE, as per the Memorandum of Understanding with KWPD, was to investigate the serious injury. It was FDLE’s duty to interview all witnesses and preserve the evidence. Yet the lab samples taken at the hospital were destroyed, the body was very nearly cremated before autopsy, and it took six months to shame them into finally agreeing to listen to a couple of independent witnesses. If there was obstruction of justice in this case, FDLE was the agency most responsible for it, yet its agents are the ones in charge of the investigation.
So what happens when the police ‘lose’ evidence, chase away or intimidate witnesses, or bypass control devices? According to our research, it seems to have the initial effect of fending off criminal prosecution of police officers who could otherwise face assault or murder charges.
However, the scheme seems to backfire at the civil trial level. Apparently juries are willing to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, even in extreme cases, unless they believe that there was an attempt at a cover-up.
In Florida and some other jurisdictions, the Judge may even instruct the jury that they may draw an adverse inference against the officer(s). The logic being that police would have interviewed the witnesses had they not been certain that the testimony would incriminate them. This allows jurors to find in favor of a Plaintiff even when there is no direct evidence of excessive force.
Following the trend, it will not be surprising if FDLE’s ‘Investigative Report’ were to conclude that no criminal wrong doing is readily apparent in the Eimers death. Which in turn will leave the road wide open for the City to be hammered in the upcoming civil rights suit.
UPDATE: FDLE finally handed over their investigative report to State Attorney Catherine Vogel on Thursday afternoon [June 19, 2014]. Vogel has scheduled the report to be reviewed by the Monroe County Grand Jury from July 21-23. Click here for full BREAKING NEWS article.
To access all Blue Paper articles on the death of Charles Eimers click here.