KEY WEST (CBSMiami) — A Monroe County Grand Jury ruled Wednesday that a group of Key West police officers did nothing wrong during a Thanksgiving Day encounter which left a retired auto worker dead.
Four Key West police officers were videotaped pinning a 61-year-old retired auto worker face down in the sand. The man, Charles Eimers, stopped breathing during the arrest and died a week later without ever regaining consciousness.
“I believe my father was asphyxiated on the beach in Key West by the officers involved that day,” Eimers’ son, Trevor told CBS News reporter Elain Quijano prior to the grand jury report being released.
“He was murdered by those officers,” Eimers added.
But the grand jury, which heard testimony from 32 individuals, decided the officers acted properly. “We find the KWPD officers on the scene during the incident exercised the proper amount of force to apprehend and restrain Mr. Eimers,” the report concludes.
Eimers moved to Key West last year to spend the rest of his life enjoying the sand and the sun. But little did he realize how short a life it would be. On Thanksgiving Day, around 8:30 am, Eimers was pulled over for a traffic infraction. As an officer ran his driver’s license, Eimers took off, leading police on a chase through the picturesque island before finally stopping at the Atlantic Ocean side of Duval Street.
A tourist video posted on the internet showed Eimers with his hands in the air and then getting down on the sand as officers moved in.
Police claimed he began to resist as they tried to handcuff him. Two of the officers on the scene pinned their knees down on his shoulders. Officers soon realized he wasn’t breathing and said they immediately began CPR. He was taken to a Key West hospital, where he died a week later without ever regaining consciousness.
Mistakes by the Key West police fueled the notion of a cover-up. Before the video showing what actually happened surfaced – a Key West police officer apparently tried to mislead paramedics. An EMS report obtained by CBS News revealed police claimed Eimers had tried to run from them on the beach and collapsed on his own and had a heart attack.
Also the body was almost cremated before an autopsy could be performed.
But the grand jury found he was not smothered to death.
“The officers also testified that no one held Mr. Eimers’ face in the sand that morning, although there was testimony that Eimers was turning his head back and forth during the struggle,” the jurors wrote. “We did see a photograph of Mr. Eimers taken at the hospital which showed sand on his face and in his nasal passages and ears, but the medical examiner testified that no sand was found in Mr. Eimers’ internal airways.”
Instead they said he died due to a pre-existing heart condition.
The grand jury did criticize the way the police handled the investigation after Eimers died, saying the department should review its policies and procedures used during in custody deaths and “near deaths.”
An attorney for the Eimers family late today said the family was disappointed by the grand jury report but they are continuing to press ahead with a federal civil lawsut against the Key West Police Department.