Florida Keys

Feds clear Key West police in tourist's in-custody death, say no civil rights violated

This is an image taken from a YouTube video of the police takedown at South Beach. Charles Eimers is in the sand surrounded by police. He died later at a hospital.
This is an image taken from a YouTube video of the police takedown at South Beach. Charles Eimers is in the sand surrounded by police. He died later at a hospital.

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department has found no "prosecutable violation" of federal civil-rights law in the 2013 death of Charles Eimers, a Michigan man who died in Key West police custody.

The word came in a Feb. 23 letter from Paige M. Fitzgerald, acting section chief of the Civil Rights Division's Criminal Section.

"Accordingly, we have closed our investigation," she wrote.

"I'm pleased that yet another investigation has vindicated our officers and our department. As we have maintained all along our officers' actions did not cause Mr. Eimers' death," Key West Police Chief Donie Lee said in a prepared statement.

The Key West Citizen Review Board, which investigates complaints against the city police, had sought the federal probe after a grand jury declined in August 2014 to indict anyone in Eimers' death. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also found no prosecutable wrongdoing.

Key West police arrested Eimers, 61, of Birch Run, Mich., on Nov. 28, 2013, following a short auto chase. He died six days later at Lower Keys Medical Center but was still considered in police custody. The investigation focused on his takedown at a beach.

In April 2014, the Eimers family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in U.S. District Court against eight police officers and the city alleging the police "used excessive force during their arrest of Charles Eimers, killing him."

The city settled the case for $900,000. Of that, $540,000 went to the family. The rest went to its attorneys.

The family maintained the officers' actions killed him, though the county coroner said his death was health-related.

Police say Eimers was stopped for an improper lane change, a routine traffic violation, on North Roosevelt Boulevard. After first cooperating with officers, Eimers began acting strangely, officers said. Then "for reasons unknown," Eimers drove away against police instructions.

Driving through residential and business areas, "Mr. Eimers was observed speeding, running red lights and disregarding stop signs, thereby posing a substantial risk of injury to persons and property ... in the narrow, congested streets of Old Town," the grand jury concluded.

When Eimers stopped at South Beach at the Atlantic end of Duval, he got out of his car and obeyed officer instructions to lie on the sand. While being handcuffed, he began struggling, officers told the grand jury.

The Eimers’ family lawsuit contended officers forced "his face into the sand, causing him to inhale sand." After the arrest, Eimers suffered medical distress and was taken to the hospital.

Witness testimony from bystanders largely supported police accounts that officers did not strike Eimers' head or force his face into the sand, the grand jury concluded.

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