The family of an African American Army veteran is seeking answers from officials in York County after the 41-year-old father of two died in law enforcement custody and was returned to them with missing organs.
Relatives of Everett Palmer Jr. have hired Philadelphia-based civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt to investigate potential criminal and civil claims in connection with his death last year while in York County Prison, according to published reports this week.
Palmer’s family last heard from him on April 7, when he called his brother to say he planned to stop in Pennsylvania to clear up a two-year-old DUI warrant on his way from Delaware to New York to visit them, relatives told news organizations including CNN and the Washington Post.
ALEXANDRA WIMLEY / AP Attorney S. Lee Merritt in March at a trial in an unrelated case in Pittsburgh.
Two days later, he was pronounced dead at Wellspan York Hospital after he “became agitated and began hitting his head against the inside of his cell door” at the county prison where he had been detained, according to a coroner’s report.
After Palmer’s body was released to them, family members commissioned an investigation by an independent pathologist, who determined that his throat, heart, and brain had been removed, according to reports.
“This entire case smacks of a cover-up,” Merritt told CNN.
A Pennsylvania State Police spokesperson told the Post that officers in York are investigating the incident in conjunction with the York County district attorney.
Trooper Brent Miller, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Police, sent an email Saturday to The Inquirer saying he could not comment because the investigation is ongoing. A district attorney’s spokesperson said the office does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Palmer’s brother Dwayne told the Post that Everett was imprisoned after authorities he encountered in Pennsylvania saw a suspension on his license and sent him to York County Prison, but that other circumstances surrounding his detention had not been explained.
One year. Today makes one year since you were taken from us. 365 days of unanswered questions, 52 weeks of sadness and it still feels like yesterday. There isn’t enough time left to heal this wound. Continue to sleep well. You are missed immeasurably.
In their report, coroner’s officials attributed Palmer’s cause of death to “complications following an excited state, associated with methamphetamine toxicity, during physical restraint.” They also cited “probable sickling red cell disorder” as a contributing factor in his death, a likely reference to sickle cell disease, a condition that disproportionately affects people of African ancestry.
Family members told CNN that Palmer had some history of drug use but never used meth, and that prison processing reports shared with them provided no indication that he had drug paraphernalia among his possessions or that he was intoxicated when he was booked.
Dwayne Palmer, meanwhile, said his brother did not suffer from sickle cell disease, according to the Post. He told CNN that Everett worked as a personal trainer and had been an Army paratrooper.
After learning that Everett Palmer’s brain, heart, and throat were missing, Palmer’s family spent months trying to track down the body parts, first being told by coroner’s officials to check with a funeral home, then being instructed that the organs were at an independent lab, Merritt told CNN.
The family believes the organs will reveal how Palmer died, but the lab refuses to release them, citing an ongoing investigation, he said.
“We haven’t been able to get them back yet,” Merritt said. “His constitutional rights are being violated.