[Editor’s Note: The letter below which was sent to KWPD Chief Brandenburg this morning and copied to The Blue Paper was written by Travis Pinson, a member of Matthew Murphy’s family. Readers may recall that in 2013 The Blue Paper broke the story of the officer-involved death of Charles Eimers who died on Thanksgiving Day on South Beach while in the hands of several KWPD officers. Our coverage of the Eimers case soon led us to discover what had happened to Matt Murphy three years previous. Following Mr. Pinson’s letter you’ll find links to some of our coverage of what happened to Charles Eimers and to Matthew Murphy and how our police department and city officials handled each case. No City official has ever apologized or given condolences to the families of these men. In the case of Charles Eimers then Chief, Donie Lee, told a local radio host, “The officers could have used even more force,” quoting the words of an expert police defense witness hired by then state attorney, Catherine Vogel to ensure the grand jury would come back with no indictment. The Eimers case was so full of scandal that it made national news yet no independent agency has ever investigated the unscrupulous actions of KWPD and FDLE and the State Attorney’s office subsequent to Eimers’ death. Chief Brandenburg’s June 1st letter which was sent out as a press release in response to the killing of George Floyd – to which Mr. Pinson refers – is also linked below.]
My name is Travis L. Pinson and I am sending this email in direct response to your “Letter to the community” that you penned on June , 2020 in response to George Floyd’s death/murder. I have to say, your response was very emotional, heartfelt and well written. I want to address a few things in your statement that I find to be disheartening, ingenuine and that in my opinion are very hypocritical in nature.
My first issue is with this statement: “I want to assure you that the Key West Police Department in no way condones the excessive use of force.” Key West has condoned excessive use for years, and they even promote officers that are accused of excessive force, and the City has settled with several individuals, and families such as Mr. Charles Eimers who died after an interaction with your police department in 2013. Prior to that, In April 2011, Mr. Matthew Murphy had a negative interaction with your police department that has left him in a long-term care facility with irrevocable brain damage. While in the settlement with both of these gentlemen’s family, it was agreed that they would drop any wrongful death suits thus not holding your department and officers accountable for their actions. This to me is two separate incidents years apart, that shows a pattern of excessive force.
My second issue is when you state “Our role is to protect and serve our residents and our visitors.” I reference back to the aforementioned case of Mr. Eimers and Mr. Murphy that I have to disagree with your statement of “serving and protecting our residents and visitors.” Mr. Eimers was a visitor to your city, and Mr. Murphy was a resident with his fiancé and their young child. Mr. Murphy was working and being a productive member of the community. One is dead and the other will never be able to play catch with Kaeden, see Kaeden go to his high school prom, or graduate college. If this is how your department protects the residents and visitors, I don’t want to visit your city!
My third issue is when you stated “Key West Police Officers are constantly training to ensure that they deal with any situation appropriately. When met with resistance, there are levels of response, and every one of our officers is well-versed and trained in a variety of responses.” In the case of Mr. Murphy, it was verified through interviews with parties involved that Mr. Murphy was tasered from behind, in direct opposition to your guidelines on the use of less than deadly force. I guess someone that is unarmed, not facing your officers are trained to deploy the taser and call it “appropriate.”
My fourth issue is when you stated “Public safety is paramount, and that includes the safety of individuals we take into custody. If we do meet with resistance, we respond appropriately. Once an individual is in custody, it is our duty to keep them safe.” Mr. Eimers was taken into custody on that day in November. If his safety was “paramount”, then how is this individual deceased? If it is your “duty to keep them safe”, then how is Mr. Eimers DEAD? It was found that Mr. Eimers was face down in the sand, couldn’t breath and succumbed to his injuries suffered at the hand of your officers. The Key West citizen review board didn’t even believe your officers account and requested assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
My fifth issue is when you stated “When an incident like the one in Minneapolis occurs, it puts a dark blotch on professional police officers everywhere who have dedicated their lives to protecting others. It means we must work harder to retain your trust in the Key West Police Department.” You have been employed by Key West Police Department since 2002. You have been part of the organizational culture within the Key West Police department that has shown to use excessive force more than once. Another issue is that these are instances that have been “caught”, how many excessive uses of force have been covered up, not reported, and not stopped by your current officers/leadership team. You have had 16 years to assist your department in the change that society needs and wants in regard to excessive force. Your words to me seem very ingenuine and just putting on a façade to those that live in the City of Key West.
My final issue is with this statement “I want to assure you that I and every member of my department will continue to better our agency and engage in active communication with all the people of Key West.” You want strong communication within your city. You never once condoned the actions of the officer in Minneapolis. You only stated that “Key West Police Department doesn’t condone excessive force.” I believe this statement to be hypocritical. If you want to say that not one of your officers have been convicted or found to have used excessive force, that is a true statement, but by former Chief Lee stating that “it was a business decision on part of the insurance agency to settle” it also was a way out that your officers did not have to face consequences of their actions.
In closing, on that fateful day in April 2011, Mr. Murphy’s life changed forever. Mr. Murphy has a loving family. He has one son, three sisters, a mother, father, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews that have been affected by your officer’s decision. During family gatherings, there isn’t one that goes by someone doesn’t remember something that Matt had said or has done. The laughs that he brought, the smiles that his sisters felt when he would call out of the blue saying, “this is your brother, I’m just checking in”. Officer Siracuse took that away from Matt when he decided to use a taser. When in opening, I stated that you not only condone the excessive force, you have promoted it, I’m directly referring to Officer Siracuse or should I say Sergeant Siracuse. I understand that you were not the “Chief” of the department in 2011, but you are currently continuing the organization culture of the Key West Police Department without significant change. I hope you look at your department Mission Statement and update the values to include holding your department and your officers accountable for their actions.
I am attaching a photo of Matt so that you can remember what the face of excessive force looks like. I also want to say that I support all law enforcement, and that Matt’s nephew, my son is currently a sophomore, majoring in Criminal Justice to be a police officer. I hope that his mother and I have been excellent role models and he will be the next generation of police officers that will stand up for what is right in your profession. He will be the generation that will actually hold themselves accountable for their actions.
Travis L. Pinson