The state will not seek criminal charges against four Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers and a supervisor involved in the in-custody death of Harold Easter, Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather III said Monday.
In a 35-page report to the State Bureau of Investigation, Merriweather explained there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute five sworn CMPD employees in connection to Easter’s death.
The decision follows CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings’ announcement Friday that the five employees were cited for termination after an internal investigation into the incident.
Police arrested Easter on Jan. 23 on drug and traffic charges. The report stated that he “ate a large amount of crack cocaine” before officers pulled him over. While in custody, the officers stripped-searched Easter and shackled him to the floor of an interrogation room. According to the DA’s office, police officers checked on him periodically. Surveillance footage shows him falling on the floor and experiencing seizures until the officers rush to provide medical aid, the report said.
Easter died three days later from cardiac arrest due to cocaine overdose. The medical examiner determined his death was accidental.
Merriweather says involuntary manslaughter would’ve been the most applicable criminal charges but concluded that the state couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Easter would’ve lived if officers sought immediate medical attention after stopping him. However, the district attorney’s office acknowledged that different actions by the officers could’ve saved Easter’s life.
“The video image of Mr. Easter slowly beginning to perish, unattended, for over 15 minutes has left an indelible mark upon each of us,” the report stated. “It is wholly appropriate to deem what occurred on Jan. 23 to be an abject failure of operating procedure and general standards of custodial care.”
CMPD announced changes to some of its directives to avoid incidents like this from happening in the future. For example, officers must maintain continuous observation of a subject when in custody instead of every 15 minutes.