The family of a black Army veteran who died in police custody over a year ago is still demanding answers as to his cause of death and why his body was returned with some of his organs missing.
41-year-old Everett Palmer Jr. was on his way from Delaware to New York to visit his sick mother two days before he reportedly. Palmer had called his brother Dwayne and told him that during his drive to New York he was going to try and resolve an outstanding DUI warrant from an incident in 2016 in Pennsylvania. However, two days later on April 9, 2018, Palmer’s family was told that he had died in police custody at the York County Prison.
Fourteen months later, the Palmers are still clueless as to what Palmer’s exact cause of death was and why his body was returned to them with his throat, heart, and brain missing.
“This entire case smacks of a cover-up,” civil rights attorney Lee Merritt told CNN in a phone interview.
The family hired Merritt to help find answers and bring justice to Palmer. But Merritt says prison and county officials have not been cooperative with providing an official cause of death. Meanwhile, York County Coroner Pam Gay said Palmer’s stolen organs were retained as part of the forensic autopsy for additional testing.
“There were never any missing organs,” Gay told CNN on Saturday. “The lab that does our autopsies has the organs. Coroner’s offices don’t always have a morgue or a forensic pathologist. We contract those services out. We utilize a team in Allentown. That’s who retains the specimens. They don’t always tell us what they retain. We made that clear to the family from the beginning.” She noted that removing the throat is typical in this kind of investigation because “we have to make sure there wasn’t any kind of component that caused asphyxia.”
Gay also said local authorities have been cooperative.
“We were in communications with them directly and through their attorney,” she said. “I understand their need and desire for answers. We are working to do that. The truth will come out. I can’t comment on the active investigation.”
An initial autopsy by the York County Coroner’s Office stated Palmer died after an incident “following an excited state” during which he “began hitting his head against the inside of his cell door” and was restrained.
The report says Palmer became agitated as a result of “methamphetamine toxicity.” A probable “sickling red cell disorder” as listed as a contributing factor. But Palmer’s family says he never had any health problems prior to his death and the report of him hitting himself is completely out of his character.
On July 28, 2018, the York County Coroner’s Office updated its autopsy results to include a manner of death as “undetermined.” Gay said investigations into possible drug-related deaths can take one to three years and also ruled out the cause of death being a suicide. The family says Palmer did have “some history of drug use,” but never meth.
Palmer’s processing reports provided no indication that he was under the influence or had any drug paraphernalia in his items when he arrived.
“He would have had to receive (the meth) in the jail itself. We don’t believe that happened,” Merritt said.
Palmer’s body was returned to his family only after they hired their own independent forensic pathologist who discovered that Palmer’s body was missing three body parts.
“It’s not unusual to take organs out of a body during an autopsy, especially if you believe they were subject to trauma. The highly unusual part is to misplace them,” Merritt said.
Merritt says the family believes the body parts will reveal details of how Palmer died.
“But we haven’t been able to get them back yet,” Merritt said. “His constitutional rights are being violated.”
Palmer’s younger brother Dwayne spoke of how loving his late brother was.
“He joked around a lot. He was the life of the family,” Dwayne Palmer said. “He wasn’t a perfect person, but certainly not somebody that’s a rabble-rouser, fighting, starting trouble or anything like that. He was a loving person.”
Over a year after his death, Dwayne says the family still just wants to know what happened.
“We don’t believe anything (officials) are telling us at this point,” he said. “It’s a tremendous loss for our family. We are devastated.”
According to the autopsy report, Everett Palmer Jr. was taken to a medical clinic where he was noted to be unresponsive. He was transferred to York Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:46 a.m.
“If he was being processed for something that he did wrong in terms of the DUI — he should be held accountable for that — but it shouldn’t be a death sentence, certainly inside of a jail,” his brother added. “We know that there are good people in that prison system. We appeal to them to come forward and share what they know.”
The Palmer family has put in a Freedom of Information Act request for any video recordings from the York County Prison while Palmer was in their custody.
“It’s been over a year and we want some answers. He was delivered back to us without organs. We want closure,” Palmer said. “If something criminal happened, and I believe something criminal did happen, we want the people that was involved in that to be held accountable.”
“The major problem, in this case, is what happened to Everett Palmer Jr. in a holding cell in police custody,” Merritt said Saturday on CNN.
“Was a chokehold applied to Palmer?” he asked. Why haven’t other reports or video shot in the cell been released to the family? “We expect for York County and for the district attorney … to do a thorough, complete investigation, which includes the autopsy, but it also includes gathering any reports about physical contact that was required in that cell, and releasing the videos to the family,” Merritt said. “We want what everybody would want in this situation, which is just justice for the family.”
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