A man whom Charlotte-Mecklenburg County police saw eat a large amount of cocaine died while in custody. The officers did not try to get medical help for him, left him unattended in violation of department regulations, and failed to respond to his calls for help.
Harold Easter, 41, was taken into custody after officers witnessed a suspected drug deal and made a traffic stop on January 23, 2020. Easter had initially refused to stop his Dodge Durango, and law enforcement pursued him on a low-speed chase.
When an officer approaches Easter’s car with gun drawn, he sees Easter trying to eat a plastic bag full of crack cocaine. "Don't eat it! He's eating it," the officer says. Police found cocaine and cannabis in his car.
The incident was captured on body camera and surveillance video, at the scene of the arrest and at the police station.
You Think I Want to Die?
At the station, Easter was placed in an interrogation room at about 12:19 p.m. At 12:37 p.m., he was left by himself and “was not continually monitored, nor did any officer remain in the interview room with him,” according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer B. Merriweather III.
The video shows Easter gripping the edge of a police interrogation table and saying, “You think I want to die?” He is alone in the interrogation cell, and begins convulsing. He says aloud, “I am going to die.” Easter also yelled, “Please,” a number of times as his condition deteriorated. It was not until 1:14 p.m., more than a half-hour after he was last monitored, that an officer enters the room and checks on him. Easter lay on the floor. A medic is finally summoned, and the officer says Easter is having a seizure.
He did succumb, three days later, in a nearby hospital.
According to his death record, Easter initially appeared to have an altered mental state, progressing to seizure activity. The medical examiner wrote that Easter “was admitted briefly with severe cardiac dysfunction.” Easter tested positive for cocaine from a urine sample. “The clinical impression is intentional oral cocaine ingestion," as per the report, which deemed the death accidental. Easter’s toxicology report shows opioids, levamisole, and lidocaine in his system.
Five Officers Resign
Five officers resigned over the Easter case. It was clear they had violated the department’s policies of observing those custody suspects every 15 minutes. Police Chief Johnny Jennings said it appears the officers were aware of Easter’s cocaine ingestion and failed to obtain medical help. He added that he did not believe their behavior was malicious, but “bad decisions have consequences.”
None of the officers face criminal charges. In a September 21 letter to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Merriweather writes that independent experts consulted by the DA’s office could not testify that Easter would have lived after ingesting cocaine even if the police officers had gotten him prompt medical care, due to the amount of drug consumed.
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