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CMPD Sergeant, 4 Officers 'Cited For Termination' After Man's Death In Custody

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings speaking Friday, Sept. 18, 2020

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings on Friday recommended four officers and a police sergeant be fired for their involvement in the death of an African American man after he was taken into custody in January.

The man, Harold Easter, was arrested on Jan. 23 on drug and traffic charges. When he was brought into the police station on Beatties Ford Road, police say he had a medical emergency and lost consciousness. Officers performed medical aid and rushed Easter to a nearby hospital, where he died on Jan. 26.

At a Friday news conference, Jennings said an internal investigation revealed the officers involved had "intimate knowledge that Mr. Easter had ingested and swallowed cocaine" during the traffic stop.

"Additionally, internal affairs concluded that Mr. Easter was left unattended inside of an interview room for more than 20 minutes. At that time, he was clearly in need of medical attention," Jennings said.

At the time, CMPD required officers to make visual checks on people in custody at least once every 15 minutes. The policy was revised following Easter's death, now requiring officers to watch subjects continously.

Taking the department's findings into account, Jennings said he recommended the officers involved be fired from the police department. His recommendation is in line with a decision from CMPD's Community Relations Committee, which has also recommended the officers involved lose their jobs.

The final decision will be left to the Civil Service Board, Jennings said.

Credit City of Charlotte
Mayor Vi Lyles spoke via video Friday afternoon.

Mayor Vi Lyles held an afternoon news conference, where she acklowledged the tumultuous relationship CMPD has had with the community at times in recent years.

"Today, once again as mayor, I ask this community to understand that we hope to take this important step, for the Easter family to take some comfort, and to understand that we acknowledge their loss," Lyles said.

The officers cited for termination are Sergant Nicolas Vincent and officers Michael Benfield, Michael Joseph, Shon Sheffield, and Brentley Vinson. Vinson has previously faced public scrutiny as the officer who fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott in 2016, sparking days of citywide protests.

A seperate, criminal investigation into the officers' actions is ongoing, and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's office has not yet announced whether criminal charges will be filed.

"We’ve stood in this place one time too many," Lyles said. "And today is the acknowledgement that we know that there will be videos released by the judge in the next week. That the district attorney will make a determination based on an investigation by his office. But none of that brings back a loss. It will not bring back Mr. Easter. It will not remove the issues that we will have in dealing with this with our own police department."

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