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CMPD Videos Show Arrest And Collapse Of Harold Easter After Swallowing Drugs

CMPD video shows Harold Easter alone in an interview room moments before he collapsed in convulsions on Jan. 23. He died three days later.
CMPD video shows Harold Easter alone in an interview room moments before he collapsed in convulsions on Jan. 23. He died three days later.

Updated 6:30 p.m.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have released 17 videos from the January arrest of a suspect who later died after swallowing cocaine. The body camera and police station videos include Harold Easter's arrest on suspicion of dealing drugs and his later collapse in a police station interview room.

In a press conference later in the day, CMPD chief Johnny Jennings said the five officers involved in the incident have resigned.

Police stopped Easter's SUV and arrested him around 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 23. During the arrest, an officer yells that Easter is swallowing something. 

"Put your hands up right now. Don't eat it! He's eating it!" yells one officer. 


The video shows officers searching Easter's car and then driving him to the police station. Easter repeatedly asks for water and to use the bathroom.  

Although officers knew that Easter had swallowed drugs, they left him unattended in an interview room for about 50 minutes, according to timestamps on the video from that room. On the video, Easter gradually becomes sick, rocking back and forth and shaking, then moaning and eventually collapsing in convulsions. 

He's on the floor for about 7½ minutes before an officer checks on him and calls for help.  

"Hey! Need Medic, need Medic!" the officer yells. 

Easter was taken to the hospital in critical condition, and died three days later. 

Credit David Boraks / WFAE
CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings speaks to reporters Thursday afternoon.

CMPD recommended that four officers and a sergeant be fired for their handling of the case, and all resigned. Under department policy, medical attention should have been sought for someone suspected of ingesting drugs, CMPD Chief Jennings said, and Easter should not have been left unattended for so long.

"Had the officers followed policy and made better decisions, there may have been a different outcome," Jennings said in an afternoon press conference. "I believe that if they had followed policy, we would have at the minimum given Harold Easter a chance."

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather did not charge the officers, saying he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did anything wrong.  

Mayor Vi Lyles called Easter's death a tragedy, and said the officers have paid a price with their resignations. But Jennings said they'll get to keep their pensions. And apart from noting the incident in their records, Jennings said, there's nothing CMPD can do to prevent them from getting new jobs as police officers.

One of the officers is Brentley Vinson, who was not charged in 2016 after he fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott. That shooting led to days of protests in uptown Charlotte.  The other officers are Michael Benfield, Michael Joseph and Shon Sheffield, and Sgt. Nicholas Vincent.   

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WFAE's Nick de la Canal talks with reporter David Boraks about Thursday's release of CMPD video from the arrest of Harold Easter in January, and city officials' reactions.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.