Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

Charles Eimers Photo provided by Treavor Eimers

by Naja and Arnaud Girard…….

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



Facebook Comments



  1. 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.

  2. 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 !!!!

  3. 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!


  4. 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!!

    • Please have those wintness who are trying to contact FDLE contact us at 305-304-6882. We will try to help them get someone at FDLE to speak with.

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