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CMPD: People In Custody To Be Under 'Continual Observation' Following January Death

Nick de la Canal

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney says officers now will be required to constantly watch people in their custody.

“From now on, from initial contact, when we get custody and control of anyone – be it a suspect, victim or witness, we have to ensure that due care is taken,” Putney said Friday. “That means we’re in constant – or at least continual – observation of those people. … In person – physically, I’m watching you. Or by video surveillance -- I’m watching you, especially when it involves your presence in one of our interview rooms.”

Putney said the directive is effective immediately. It follows the death of 41-year-old Harold Easter, who died in a hospital Jan. 26, three days after he suffered a medical emergency in CMPD custody and lost consciousness. CMPD has not released his cause of death.

Easter was being processed for arrest on suspicion of drug charges Jan. 23 at a CMPD station on Beatties Ford Road when the incident happened, according to the department. Police said they tried to help Easter and called for paramedics, who took Easter to a hospital.

The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether there was any criminal wrongdoing involved in Easter’s death. CMPD, meanwhile, is conducting an internal investigation into whether the five officers involved followed department practices.

Those officers remain on administrative leave during the investigations, which the department says is standard procedure.

Putney didn’t provide any updates on either investigation Friday but said the policy update was connected to the case. The chief said he’s talked to the Easter family and plans to show them “any video relevant to the incident” next week.

“In the interim, I couldn’t wait,” Putney said. “There were some issues we could address immediately, and so we’re doing so.”

In cases of people being in interview rooms, the old practice was to check on someone in custody at least every 15 minutes – something Putney on Friday called “not good enough.”

Putney said previous policies dictating how officers watch people in their custody covered several different scenarios but were “a bit too complex for practical application.”

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.