Florida Keys News
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
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Police, family await report on in-custody death
Confusion added to death certificate, body getting to ME for an autopsy

It could take a month or longer for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to deliver its findings on the in-custody death of Charles Eimers, who turned blue after being held facedown in the sand by Key West police officers during an arrest Thanksgiving morning.

Eimers, 61, a Michigan native, died Dec. 4 at Lower Keys Medical Center, having lost consciousness while being subdued by four officers, who all said he was resisting arrest after leading police on a car chase from New Town to South Beach.

Police have described Eimers as having had heart problems in the past, but no cause of death has been determined yet by County Medical Examiner Dr. E. Hunt Scheuerman.

FDLE's investigation of Eimers' death is an automatic review that does not indicate any wrongdoing, Police Chief Donie Lee said.

"I don't know what Mr. Eimers died of," said Lee. "We have nothing to do with the investigation. It's standard operating procedure. Any in-custody death by KWPD, FDLE will conduct the investigation."

No autopsy report is ready for release either by Scheuerman, who said this week his office wasn't notified by police about the Dec. 4 in-custody death until Dec. 11.

An FDLE agent contacted the medical examiner, who requested the body's transfer to his Marathon office.

"He ended up going to Dean-Lopez Funeral Home," said Scheuerman of Eimers. "That's where he was when we were notified of his death by FDLE on Dec. 11."

That's when Dean-Lopez delivered the body to Scheuerman's office.

Scheuerman said he agreed with FDLE Special Agent Supervisor Kathy Smith that Eimers required an autopsy by his office, and requested the body from the Key West funeral home.

"It doesn't happen often, but sometimes doctors or hospitals for one reason or another don't always know what's going on with law enforcement," said Scheuerman.

Scheuerman said he did not know how the hospital classified the death. A hospital spokesman has said all patient information is confidential under federal law.

Key West police and the funeral home confirmed Eimers died Dec. 4 at the hospital on Stock Island.

The body spent the next seven days at Dean-Lopez, 418 Simonton St., before Scheuerman called the funeral director.

"Refrigerated but not embalmed," said Steven Reeves, funeral director at Dean-Lopez, who was the one to pick up Eimers' body from the hospital Dec. 4. "He was going to do be cremated."

Dean-Lopez handles all the body removals per contract with the medical examiner's office, located in Marathon.

By Dec. 11, a doctor had already signed Eimers' death certificate, putting down "natural causes" as the determination, Reeves said.

"He was not aware the man had been in custody, that's why he went ahead and signed it," said Reeves. "Anybody that dies in custody -- it's automatically a medical examiner case, even if they're in prison."

That doctor later amended Eimers' death certificate, replacing "natural causes" with the fact that it was a medical examiner's case, Reeves said.

Treavor Eimers was in town when his father died, said Reeves.

Police said Charles Eimers had been pulled over on North Roosevelt Boulevard Thanksgiving morning for changing lanes erratically and then took off before the officer had finished running his license.

Eimers steered his silver P.T. Cruiser downtown while patrol cars began tracking him, driving onto the sand at South Beach before stopping and getting out.

The South Beach incident baffles the Eimers' family, who recalled Charles Eimers as a gentle man. The son and a daughter want answers from both the medical examiner's office and the state police.

Eimers' son, Treavor, is a certified registered nurse anesthetist, who is questioning the police's actions that holiday morning.

The younger Eimers alerted a Facebook page called "Policing the Police" about his father's in-custody death in Key West, attaching a copy of the smart phone video a stranger took that day of a man visibly surrendering on South Beach as officers approach to handcuff him.

The smart phone's video shows Eimers putting his hands above his head as he drops to his knees. Then one-by-one, officers approach him, covering Eimers' body from view.

On Dec. 7, the son, without comment, changed the profile picture on his Facebook page to a snapshot of his father. In the photo, Charles Eimers is smiling into the camera. The backdrop is a wide green expanse of lawn and trees. A hammock can be spotted in the corner, along with the blurry image of a child in the distance running.

State decides if police were wrong

The state reviews in-custody deaths as an independent service.

"We're looking for criminal intent, if there was any criminal wrongdoing that occurred," said Samantha Andrews, a spokeswoman at FDLE's Tallahassee office. "Each case is going to be different."

FDLE's job is not to review a police department's policies.

"We're not going to investigate policy decisions for agencies," Andrews said. "Agencies have their own internal affairs units that investigate those types of things."

FDLE does not comment on active investigations.

In 2013, the agency was asked to review six in-custody deaths across the state, while in 2012 the caseload numbered seven, FDLE said.

None of those cases resulted in criminal prosecution, Andrews said.

Over the past decade, FDLE has reviewed three Key West in-custody deaths, which are now all closed cases.

Those three deaths include Leonardo Hernandez, 44, of Key West, who was found hanging in his cell at the Stock Island jail in March 2012; and Clayton Ayers Link, 26, of Tavernier, who in June 2009 died nine days after deputies found him submerged in a tub at the Stock Island county jail. A Miami-Dade medical examiner ruled the death a seizure-induced drowning.

Once FDLE completes its report on Eimers, agents will present their findings to the state attorney's office, which decides whether the evidence supports criminal charges.

FDLE in-custody death cases can sometimes take several months, said Carol Frederick, resident agent in charge for the Florida Keys.

To date, the only reports made available are the 11 from Key West police officers who were on the scene and asked to submit individual recollections. Police officers reported Eimers fought them while on the ground. At one point, an officer's finger was cut by the handcuffs due to Eimers' flailing, police said.

When several officers noticed Eimers' face had turned blue, they recalled immediately turning him over and releasing him from handcuffs and a leg strap called a Hobble.

Police also await the FDLE's final report.

"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."

Staff writer Adam Linhardt contributed to this report.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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