Moments before Harold Easer collapsed on a North Carolina police interrogation table in January and started convulsing, the 41-year-old uttered to the empty room, “I am going to die.”
Three days later, Easter died in a local hospital after suffering from cardiac arrest triggered by a cocaine overdose.
Amid outrage about Easter’s death, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on Thursday released a slew of videos documenting Easter’s death after his Jan. 23 arrest on drug charges. The videos provide new details of the arrest and interrogation room detention, and the police’s response after he collapsed alone and after the ambulance left for the hospital.
“You’re supposed to protect and serve,” Easter’s sister, Andrell Mackey, told WCNC on Tuesday. “How could you do this? What were you thinking? You didn't care about his health.”
Four officers and one sergeant, who were originally put on administrative leave pending an internal investigation into Easter’s death, have since been cited for termination and resigned. Last month, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather concluded his office considered involuntary manslaughter charges but there wasn’t enough proof of any wrongdoing beyond a reasonable doubt.
Easter’s family and community leaders, however, have continued to argue he should have received medical attention earlier if officers believed he had injected drugs.
In a Thursday press conference, CMPD chief Johnny Jennings called the video of Easter dying in an interview room “one of the most difficult videos I have watched in my entire career.” He said if officers “had followed policy and made better decisions, there may have been a different outcome.”
But, he said he didn’t think the officers had “malicious intention” and he hoped Easter’s family found “some comfort in knowing we did what we could to hold the officers accountable.”
Authorities say that on Jan. 23, Officers Michael Benfield, Michael Joseph, Shon Sheffield, and Brentley Vinson—who fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott in 2016—were conducting a narcotics investigation into Easter. They were supervised by Sgt. Nicholas Vincent.
Shortly before 11:30 a.m, Joseph and Sheffield tried to conduct a traffic stop on Easter, who was driving a Dodge Durango with two other people. According to Merriweather’s investigation, Easter “drove off while refusing to stop his vehicle,” prompting a low-speed chase.
“Evidence suggests that during a low-speed pursuit, the decedent ate a large amount of crack cocaine and then pulled over and was arrested for possession of cocaine; resist delay or obstruct; possession of drug paraphernalia, as well as citations for driving with a revoked license and failure to heed blue lights and siren,” Merriweather said in a Sept. 21 letter to a judge describing the conclusion of his investigation. He said marijuana was also found in the car.
Body-camera footage of the arrest shows the two officers getting out of their squad car and telling the 41-year-old to “put his fucking hands up” while he is still in the driver’s seat. Easter doesn’t appear to be resisting arrest, as passengers in the car yell that they were not “trying to get in trouble” but had been smoking “a blunt.”
Prosecutors said that, during a brief struggle between Easter and Sheffield, officers saw Easter “eat, or tried to eat, cocaine.” Sheffield, however, told prosecutors that while he said, “Don’t eat it,” and tried to snatch a knotted bag out of Easter’s hands, he didn’t physically see “the crack cocaine go into the decedent’s mouth.”
“He was crushing up a part of his crack, he didn’t get all of it though,” Sheffield is heard saying on the body-camera footage after Easter, who is wearing a red sweater, is arrested outside of the car. “But that’s what he was doing while I was fighting for his hands.”
After the arrest, Easter was taken to the CMPD Metro Division office where he was searched and allowed to drink water. One body-cam video released Thursday shows officers attempting to help Easter use the restroom, though he seems to be unable and is told he can try again after he is stripped searched inside the interrogation room.
Merriweather noted that while Easter was placed in an interview room at around 12:19 p.m., he was left alone at 12:37 p.m. and “was not continually monitored, nor did any officer remain in the interview room with him.”
Video surveillance shows he was left alone for at least 20 minutes and is seen standing and shouting expletives next to a small table. At about 1 p.m, Easter’s ranting slows down considerably, and he’s seen swaying from side-to-side before putting his hands on the table. He is then heard yelling, “Please” several times and shaking slightly with a water cup still in his hands.
“I am going to die,” Easter slowly yells into the empty room about a minute later, with both hands on the table and his shaking increasing. He continues to scream and yell words, though it is hard to hear, at one point saying: “Believe me.”
At 1:04 p.m., Easter has a periodic seizure and collapses over the table as he continues to scream. Suddenly, the 41-year-old is silent and motionless before eventually seizing again and falling to the floor of the interview room, where he remains alone for nearly 10 minutes. At approximately 1:14 p.m., Vincent discovers Easter and officers begin providing medical aid.
“This was the first time the decedent received medical attention during this encounter with law enforcement,” Merriweather wrote. On Thursday, Jennings acknowledged that the officers involved “should have called for [a] medic once they had him in handcuffs.”
In the surveillance footage, several officers are seen entering the room to help Easter, immediately saying he is “having a seizure.” In another body-camera clip, Charlotte Medic officials perform CPR on Easter in the precinct hallway before he is rushed to a hospital.
“He is seizing again,” one medic is heard saying in the footage. “Harold, you alright, man?”
At the hospital, doctors determined Easter suffered cardiac arrest due to a cocaine overdose. The Medical Examiner’s office concluded the death was accidental.
“Mr. Easter’s voluntary ingestion of crack cocaine is a proximate cause of his death, and, while there legally may have been more than one proximate cause for death, a proximate cause is defined as a cause without which the death would not have occurred,” Merriweather said in a Sept. 21 letter.
Jennings, however, said that while he couldn’t know for sure if Easter took a lethal dose of cocaine, “if these officers had followed policy, we would have at minimum given Harold Easter a chance.”
“There is no doubt in my mind the officers knew or should have known that Mr. Easter ingested cocaine,” Jennings said, adding that he respected the Merriweather’s decision not to file criminal charges. He said the officers still deserved their pension, too.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said Thursday, “We have to acknowledge this incident has been a tragedy for Harold Easter’s family.”
The attorney for Easter’s family did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.