Charlotte, NC – Protesters marched through Uptown Charlotte on Thursday night after police released video of the in-custody death of a suspect who ate his drugs when police stopped his vehicle (video below).
The incident began just before 11:40 a.m. on Jan. 23 when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officers initiated a felony traffic stop on a black SUV driven by Harold Easter, WCCB reported.
Police said that Easter was seen making a drug deal just before they stopped him, WBTV reported.
Officers arrested Easter on drug and traffic charges, but before they could get him out of his vehicle, he ingested and swallowed some cocaine to avoid being caught with it.
Police said he was in possession of both cocaine and marijuana when he was stopped, according to WBTV.
Bodycam video showed the officers realized what had happened after they handcuffed Easter.
“He got crack all over his tongue,” one of the officers said.
“Yeah, he was trying to eat it,” another officer replied in the video.
“Because I ain’t want him to get in trouble…” Easter explained, referring to the two other men in his SUV.
“Lips going numb ain’t they brother?” one of the officers asked.
“He was crushing up this [inaudible], he was crushing up [inaudible],” the first officer said as the second officer led Easter away, according to WBTV.
Then the first officer picked up some clear plastic baggies from the ground next to the SUV.
“He was crushing up part of his crack, he didn’t get all of it though,” the officer said. “But that’s what he was doing while I was fighting for his hands. But we probably got a eight-ball down here.”
“No, he didn’t get all of it,” the officer continued. “While I was fighting him, he was crushing part of it. We probably got an eight-ball right there.”
Then the officer put Easter in the back of a patrol car and transported him to the police station for booking.
During the ride, Easter complained to officers that he couldn’t breathe and repeatedly asked for water, according to WBTV.
Once they got there, the officers put Easter in an interview room, put shackles on his feet, and removed his handcuffs, the video showed.
He asked for water again but refused to let an officer look in his mouth first, so the request was denied, WBTV reported.
“I said I had to pee. I needed some water,” Easter said in the video. “I need some water.”
Then a few minutes later he asked again, the surveillance video showed.
“I’m getting dehydrated,” Easter said to the empty room. “So if I die in here, everybody know what I (inaudible).”
An officer gave him a cup of water a few minutes later, the surveillance video from the room showed.
Easter was left alone in the room for 20 minutes, WCCB reported.
During that time, he began ranting unintelligibly and then screaming gibberish, the video showed.
At one point he yelled to the officers that he wasn’t going to die if that’s what they were hoping because he had only eaten a little piece of the cocaine, WBTV reported.
Then Easter started twitching and flopped over onto the table, before eventually dropping to the floor in a seizure.
It was about seven minutes later when officers returned to the interview room, saw Easter on the floor, and called for a medic, WCCB reported.
The video showed officers dragged him out into the hallway and performed CPR until help arrived.
“He tried eating it when we walked up to the car, but we stopped him from eating it then,” one of the officers told paramedics in the video. “So, we didn’t think anything was wrong, he just came out here and we came in the interview room and he was seizing.”
Easter was transported to the hospital by ambulance.
He never regained consciousness and died three days later, WCCB reported.
CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings cited a sergeant and four police officers for termination for their handling of the incident.
“I watched the video several times, arguably one of the most difficult videos that I’ve had to watch in my entire career,” Chief Jennings said.
He said that the officers should have called for an ambulance as soon as they became aware that Easter had eaten drugs, WBTV reported.
The police chief said it was “clear to me that the officers knew or should have known that he ingested cocaine.”
“As soon as they secured Mr. Easter in handcuffs somebody should have gotten on the radio and asked dispatch to start MEDIC on their way to do an evaluation on them,” he said.
“It troubles me even more to know that had those officers followed policy and made better decisions, there may have been a different outcome,” Chief Jennings told reporters at a press conference when the video was released.
He said CMPD was re-evaluating its policies to prevent avoidable deaths in custody in the future, WBTV reported
“I can ensure that members of this department will continue to be held accountable when their actions violate policy and impact community trust,” the police chief said.
All five members of the police department who were involved in the incident submitted their resignations earlier this week before the CMPD could take administrative action against them, WCNC reported.
The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office announced it would not be filing criminal charges against any of the former officers, WCCB reported.
The district attorney’s office said in a statement that while the officers should have known that Easter had swallowed the contraband, three independent experts had said they were unable to “provide decisive evidence that the officers’ inaction led to Mr. Easter’s death.”
Watch the incident unfold in the video below. WARNING – Graphic content and obscene language: