The sister of a man who died in police custody has sued five former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers and the city of Charlotte, saying the officers failed to get her brother medical help after watching him swallow cocaine, beg for water and tell them he couldn’t breathe.
“Instead, CMPD either handcuffed or shackled him, denied him water, and left him alone to die,” Andrell Mackey said in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Mecklenburg County Superior Court.
Mackey’s brother, 41-year-old Harold Easter, died on Jan. 26, 2020, three days after his arrest and detainment in a police station, The Charlotte Observer previously reported.
The city is responsible, too, for what happened to her brother, Mackey said in the lawsuit, in part because it’s responsible for ensuring officers are adequately trained.
Her lawsuit seeks “more than $25,000” in damages, which is the minimum amount required for such civil lawsuits to be filed and considered in court.
City spokesman Cory Burkarth on Saturday declined to comment about the lawsuit.
Police chief reaction
Documents released by CMPD later in 2020 revealed the officers knew Easter put drugs in his mouth, which Easter admitted to during his arrest.
The four officers and a sergeant were cited for termination by Police Chief Johnny Jennings for not following policy of seeking medical assistance for Easter, and all five resigned from the force, the Observer reported at the time.
The resignations came just two days ahead of the release of police video footage showing Easter shackled to the floor of the CMPD interview room, alone, as he suffered heart issues and seizure.
“It’s difficult to watch and to know that had our officers followed our policy, that Mr. Easter may be alive today, and had offered more concern for the sanctity of Mr. Easter’s life, we may not be looking at such a tragic outcome,” Jennings told the Observer in September 2020.
The CMPD Metro Division officers involved were Brentley Vinson, Michael Benfield, Michael Joseph and Shon Sheffield, and the sergeant was Nicolas Vincent, the Observer previously reported.
All five are listed as defendants in Mackey’s lawsuit, along with the city.
The officers failed to take Easter to the hospital or give him medical aid until he had what appeared to be a seizure and lost consciousness inside a police interview room, according to police documents and Alex Heroy, the lawyer representing Easter’s family in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed last week.
Shackled to the floor
A review of internal police documents, released in September 2020 by CMPD, showed the officers saw residue on Easter’s tongue and discussed how much of the substance he’d swallowed as he was being arrested during a drug investigation just outside uptown Charlotte on Jan. 23 that year.
At a police substation, Easter was strip-searched, shackled to the floor and left unattended for at least 20 minutes as he began having life-threatening health issues.
Jennings, in announcing he had recommended the officers be fired, said the four officers and sergeant had “intimate knowledge” that Easter had swallowed cocaine during the traffic stop that led to his arrest.
The Observer had previously reported the officers and sergeant failed to follow a long-standing CMPD policy that states anyone suspected to have ingested drugs must be evaluated by Medic before being taken to jail.
“Abject failure,” D.A. says
Also in September 2020, District Attorney Spencer Merriweather described Easter’s death as an “abject failure” on police procedures.
But Merriweather said he lacked proof that a crime occurred and the officers wouldn’t be criminally charged for involuntary manslaughter.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles earlier expressed condolences to the Easter family and praised Jennings’ accountability.
The officers and sergeant must be held responsible, Lyles said at the time.
“I did not support the idea that you should be able to avoid the action or the consequences of an investigation and take retirement and move on. It’s just not that simple anymore,” she said.