‘So much mystery’: After a man died in prison, his body was returned without vital organs
The call came out of nowhere one April day last year: Everett Palmer Jr. was dead.
The 41-year-old Army veteran and father of two had traveled from his home in Delaware to Lancaster County, Pa., on April 7 to resolve an outstanding DUI warrant from 2016, his family told The Washington Post on Thursday. But two days later, his family received a call that he had died at York County Prison.
An autopsy report from the York County Coroner states that he died after an incident in the prison where he became agitated in his cell and was later restrained. But his family still knows little about the events that precipitated his death.
To add to the shock and confusion, when Palmer’s body was returned to his loved ones, his throat, heart, and brain had been removed. The body parts went missing for several months and had not been returned to the family, according to civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the family.
There was “so much mystery and unanswered questions in a way that violates every policy and procedure the state has,” Merritt said. “It’s not uncommon to remove body parts in an autopsy in order to perform a test. The only thing that’s highly uncommon is to not know where they are.”
A year later, Palmer’s family still has questions about what happened, and are pursuing both criminal and civil cases.
The Pennsylvania State Police York Station is conducting an investigation in conjunction with the York County district attorney, according to PSP spokesman Brent Miller. Both offices declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the case.
Dwayne Palmer said his brother went to Pennsylvania to clear up a DUI warrant from Lancaster County, before traveling to New York to see his sick mother.
When he arrived, at some point police saw a suspension on his license and he was sent to York County Prison, said Dwayne Palmer.
After that, what happened to Everett Palmer becomes more mysterious.
According to the York County coroner’s report and autopsy results, Palmer was being held in a single cell at York County Prison on April 9, 2018, when he “became agitated and began hitting his head against the inside of his cell door.” Officers “restrained” Palmer, but after the incident, he was taken to the prison’s clinic and was “noted to be unresponsive.”
Staff tried to resuscitate Palmer, and he was transferred to York Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:46 a.m.
The coroner’s office ruled his official cause of death as “complication following an excited state, associated with methamphetamine toxicity, during physical restraint.” A sickle-cell disorder was said to be a probable contributing factor. The manner of death was undetermined.
The family hired an independent pathologist, who first flagged the missing organs and said the manner of death should be considered a homicide, Merritt said.
Chief Deputy Coroner Claude Stabley declined to comment on Palmer’s death because the case is “still under investigation.”
Rose Palmer, Everett’s mother, told NY1 that the behavior described in the coroner’s report was out of character.
“My son was a perfectly healthy young man, and my son is not going to bang his head on a cell,” she said. “My son was not a troublemaker, not at all, he was a very gentle, kind man.”
Dwayne Palmer said Everett was a personal trainer in excellent health, and that while the family were carriers for sickle-cell anemia, his brother did not have it.
Merritt said the Palmer family had met with the York County district attorney and that prosecutors were considering a grand jury investigation into the death.
In recent years, police and law enforcement have come under increased scrutiny for deaths of African Americans during police stops, arrests, or while in jail. In one of the most high-profile cases, a Texas woman named Sandra Bland died in a jail cell in 2015 and her death was classified as suicide. She had been arrested during a traffic stop that became confrontational, and video showed an officer threatening her with a Taser and saying he would “light you up.” Three days later, she was dead. Her death in custody sparked nationwide outrage and protest, and her family was still demanding answers as recently as last month after new video of her traffic stop emerged.
Now, it is Palmer’s loved ones who are seeking an explanation. The family held protests along with congregants from their church last July outside the York County courthouse in order to demand the release of their brother’s full autopsy results. They are hoping that renewed attention to the case will prompt witnesses to come forward.
They have also started a Justice4Everett Facebook page and hashtag, and hold updates at their church in New York City. But the “tight-knit family” still feels far from a resolution for Everett, who loved sports and had an eclectic taste in music, according to his brother.
“My brother was a good man, he comes from a good family, if he did something wrong with regards to the DUI then clearly he should be held accountable for that,” Dwayne Palmer said. “But that should not be a death sentence.”