by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….
About a year and a half ago Key West’s Citizen Review Board (CRB) wrote to the Department of Justice asking for an independent review of a drama that shook the town. On the morning of his first day on our island paradise, 61-year-old tourist/homeless person, Charles Eimers, died in police custody.
Initially it was reported by KWPD that on Thanksgiving morning an older man who had collapsed on the beach while running away from police had been sent to the hospital where he later died due to a heart condition.
But the story quickly tuned into the case that just kept going from bad to worse. In a few months, it had inflated into a scandal involving accusations of destruction of evidence, witness intimidation, and criminal misconduct not only by KWPD officers but also by the FDLE agents sent to investigate them.
CRB member Tom Milone called the investigations conducted by KWPD and FDLE, “tainted, compromised, and unreliable.”
“We wanted to know what had happened to all the missing video, the recordings, “said Milone this week. “Somebody had to look into all the inconsistent statements by the officers, the conflict of interest.”
FDLE had dismissed damning admissions made by one of the officers involved who had casually described how he and fellow officers had just “killed a man” while unaware that an open mic on his Taser was recording his every word. “Me,” said Officer Gary Lee Lovette, “I dropped like a fucking bomb on his head!”
And as in all good police dramas of late, it included the providential discovery of a bystander video that flatly contradicted a seemingly rehearsed story previously told under oath by several officers.
“We wanted the Feds to do a complete investigation,” says Milone.
We sent Milone a copy of the report we obtained from the FBI. It ends with the following sentence:
“The government could not likely prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the subjects willfully deprived the victim of a constitutional right when they restrained him. Accordingly, this matter (…) should be closed. “
“I am extremely disappointed at the superficial nature of their investigation,” said Milone. “All they did was look at the other agencies’ investigations.” Indeed, in its 4.5 page report the FBI basically repeated the findings of the Medical Examiner: Eimers could not have been smothered in the sand since the officers testified that Eimers face was never in the sand and that he had lost consciousness only after they tried to raise him to his feet. However, the Medical Examiner had not seen the second bystander video that shows Eimers face bloodied and covered in sand. There was an expectation that FBI investigators would present the Medical Examiner with this new evidence. They did not.
Instead the FBI used the fact that no sand had been found in Eimers lungs to dismiss the possibility that he had been smothered. However, the Medical Examiner himself had noted that since Eimers had been on life support for one week prior to being taken off the ventilator any sand would have been naturally evacuated before he performed his autopsy:
“With sand – in fresh case – might find some sand in upper airway but he was in hospital for a week so less likely.”
The FBI did not conduct a reenactment of the “accident.” In an amateur reenactment it clearly appeared that when both shoulders are pinned down on dry sand the head turning from side to side [officer’s testimony] rapidly creates a sand berm that runs back into one’s mouth making it impossible to breathe.
Many also hoped the FBI would use the beachside restaurant’s credit card data to track down a group of New York police officers who had witnessed the incident — one of whom had reportedly exclaimed to the crowd that they had witnessed “legalized murder on the beach” that morning.
Darren Horan, one of the attorneys who secured the $900,000 settlement against the City on behalf of the Eimers family, was not surprised by the FBI’s conclusion.
“Two guys from the Justice Department came to our offices and spoke with us,” said Horan this week, “It lasted about ten – maybe fifteen minutes. It was mostly us talking. We told them everything. But you know how when you just look at someone’s eyes and you can tell they’re just not really interested? It was clear that they were not fully engaged. We would have been happy to have produced anything they wanted. By that time the civil case had already been settled so there were no outstanding issues there. They didn’t ask us for anything.”
In the CRB’s petition, the FBI was not specifically asked to review the case with regard to the allegations of cover-up — such as the missing dash cam videos, the near-miss cremation of Eimers body before autopsy, statements made under oath by officers about Eimers’ face never having touched the sand or about his supposed attempt to escape after being handcuffed and lifted to his feet by the officers. The FBI looked only at the issue of excessive force and concluded that the second bystander video showed that no excessive force had been applied.
Yet for many Key Westers, the videos showed a man being fully compliant with police, lying on his stomach on the beach, being handcuffed. On the one audio recording that survived, Eimers is heard yelling loudly “Ow, you’re hurting me!” He becomes agitated. Multiple police officers climb on top of him. Eyewitnesses claimed they saw and heard a stun gun being fired. The autopsy would evidence deep lacerations on Eimers’ wrists and ten broken ribs. After less than two-minutes of struggle it appears Eimers has stopped moving. The video pans toward the street scape. Thirty seconds later when it returns to the beach, Eimers is about to be rolled over on his back. His face is covered with sand and there is blood coming out of his ear. The car he was living out of is parked on the sand overflowing with clothing and personal affects.
In their civil rights complaint, Eimers family’s lawyers claimed the City of Key West had a policy of being rough with homeless people like Mr. Eimers — especially when, like him, they began by disregarding officers’ demands; speeding away in the middle of a traffic stop.
Since then, KWPD has reviewed its policy on prone restraint: it now requires officers to monitor the suspect for vital signs at all times.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey, concerned about the controversy, bought KWPD one hundred body cameras which officers must now deploy when making an arrest.
But many homeless people still claim to be regular victims of selective enforcement for just about everything, from drinking in public to sitting in a park or on a public beach, to being searched incessantly and treated roughly.
Key West is still using its police force to solve social problems. “It’s been an issue in Key West forever,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay told The Blue Paper back in December, “Twenty-five to thirty percent of inmates at the jail are homeless. This is nothing against KWPD, but we need to focus on solutions.”
To see ALL Blue Paper coverage of the CHARLES EIMERS case click here.
THE DOJ’S 4.5 PAGE INVESTIGATIVE REPORT BELOW: