Family of deceased raise questions about cause of death in legal action against prison administrators
“There was so much mystery and unanswered questions in a way that violates every policy and procedure the state has,” said Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing the family.
Palmer, a Black man, was arrested in Pennsylvania in 2016 for driving while under the influence (DUI) and causing a single-car crash. Emergency responders at the time said they could smell alcohol on Palmer. His blood alcohol level tested 0.148—whereas Pennsylvania’s legal limit was 0.08.
Palmer returned to Lancaster County in 2018 to clear up the warrant for the DUI, and ended up being detained and sent to York County Prison.
Palmer was in single-cell housing on April 9, where he was reported to have been in an “agitated” state while repeatedly hitting his head on his cell door.
When custody officials noticed Palmer’s behavior, they placed him in restraints and then took him to the prison clinic for evaluation. The coroner’s report said that’s when Palmer was “noted to be unresponsive.”
Staff’s attempts to resuscitate Palmer proved unsuccessful. He was then pronounced dead early the next morning.
Palmer’s official cause of death was “complication following an excited state, associated with methamphetamine toxicity, during physical restraint. ” The manner of death was undetermined, according to the coroner’s report.
His death has prompted a possible grand jury investigation into his death.
“My son was a perfectly healthy young man, and my son is not going to bang his head on a cell. My son was not a troublemaker, not at all, he was a very gentle, kind man,” his mother, Rose Palmer, told the Washington Post.
The county contracted with an independent firm, Forensic Pathology Associates (FPA), to perform an autopsy, York County Coroner Pamela L. Gay told the Post. She said that the result for methamphetamine toxicity meant that the level of methamphetamine in Palmer’s system “was sufficient enough that it could have contributed to the death.” Yet she questions how Palmer could have got the drug while in custody. These findings prompted the family to pursue civil and criminal charges against York County Prison.
They continued to have questions regarding his death a year later.
“My brother was a good man, he comes from a good family, if he did something wrong with regards to the DUI then clearly he should be held accountable for that. But that should not be a death sentence,” said Dwayne Palmer, regarding his brother’s death.
When the Palmer family did get Everett’s body, it was missing his brain, heart, and throat. At that point, they hired an independent pathologist to determine what had happened; the independent pathologist, after investigating, said Palmer’s death should be considered a homicide. At first, the coroner’s office denied removing Palmer’s organs; it took several months before they admitted that they had removed the organs and that FPA had them. Gay, the county coroner, said that “it was not uncommon for those organs to be removed and kept by a lab.”
“We’re gonna get answers to what led to his death, and we do that with everybody. We’re going to do this the right way,” Gay said.
In recent years, police and law enforcement have been scrutinized for their handling of African Americans during police stops, arrests, or while in jail.
Sandra Bland was another such suspicious death. She died in a Texas jail cell in 2015. Her death was classified as a suicide. A traffic stop led to her incarceration. She was videotaped being confrontational toward officers. An officer was recorded during the incident threatening Bland with a Taser. The video recorded him saying he would “light you up.” Within three days of her arrest she was dead. The emergence of this video prompted nation-wide outrage while her family sought answers.