CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Five Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police employees - four officers and a sergeant - were “cited for termination” following the investigation into the in-custody death of Harold Easter in January.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say Easter had a medical emergency after they arrested him for drug charges and were transporting him back to the station for processing on Jan. 23. Easter died a few days later after being rushed to the hospital.
On Friday, Sept. 18, CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings announced the officers and sergeant’s termination, recommended by the internal review board, during a press conference.
Jennings said the officers had “intimate knowledge” that Easter had ingested cocaine during the traffic stop. He said Easter was then left unattended in an interview room for 20 minutes when he “clearly needed medical attention.”
“Had our officers followed our policy, Mr. Easter may be alive today,” Jennings said. “And had our officers had more concern for the sanctity of Mr. Easter’s life, we may not have had such a tragic outcome with this.”
“I know some of these officers, they’re good people,” Jennings said, “But sometimes even good people make bad decisions and make mistakes - and we vow to be accountable for those mistakes.”
“I believe that most people will respect that the officers have been held accountable for these actions,” Jennings continued. “I’m going to ask that everyone keep Mr. Easter’s family, and the officers, in your prayers. They’re going to need it.”
The officers' names have not been released. There is no word if they have already been terminated or if they are appealing the citation recommendations.
The State Bureau of Investigation is still looking into whether any criminal charges will be filed.
CMPD released the sequence of events following Easter’s death.
An internal investigation started following his death at the hospital on January 26. During the investigation, the five CMPD police employees were placed on administrative leave with pay.
On January 31, the State Bureau of Investigations conducted an internal investigation and later turned in its report to the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office.
In response to the internal review of this incident, four departmental directives were revised on February 6, 2020, and implemented on March 18, 2020. Under the prior directive, officers were required to make visual observation of a subject in custody at least every 15 minutes.
On July 8, CMPD Police Chief Johnny Jennings placed all of the involved officers on administrative assignment and then ordered an independent chain of command review to be scheduled to ensure accountability, according to CMPD.
On Sept. 11, the Mecklenburg County Superior Court ruled to release video related to his in-custody death to the public on Oct. 1.
On September 17, an independent chain of command review board, comprised of officers across several ranks and a civilian from the Community Relations Committee, concluded the internal investigation and cited five sworn employees for termination.
During Friday’s press conference, Chief Jennings said he had viewed the video multiple times, and that every time it was “very difficult to watch.”
His family said they hope the release of the video will bring change to CMPD.
“We’re all still angry. We’re sad, we have different emotions. We’re thankful to have this video released,” said Easter’s sister, Andrell Mackey. “We want change, still. They have made some changes, but we still want change.”
Investigators found marijuana and cocaine in his car. At the time of his in-custody death, CMPD said Easter fell unconscious during an interview.
His family believes the death could have been prevented.
“The officers are supposed to protect and serve and they failed at it,” Mackey said.
Family attorney Alexander Heroy says the public deserves to see the video.
“This is a really terrible event to their loved one now that the whole world is going to see, tragically. But at the same time they wanted change,” Heroy said.
In a statement, CMPD told WBTV, “The CMPD respects the decision the judge made in the ruling and will comply with the order.”
The next step for Easter’s family is watching the video and waiting to see the outcome of the investigation.
“I hope the DA makes the right decision with the officers. We’re still grieving, so it’s important for my family to view it,” Mackey said.
CMPD said they expected to have the internal investigation done by the middle of September.