Key West police officers "used a reasonable amount of force" that was "clearly justified" in the Nov. 28, 2013, arrest of a Michigan man who died six days later, the Monroe County grand jury reported Wednesday.
Charles Eimers, 61, of Birch Run, Mich., died Dec. 4 at the Lower Keys Medical Center, where he was admitted following a Thanksgiving Day arrest that ended on an oceanfront beach at the end of Duval Street.
The Eimers family in April filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that a dozen Key West Police Department officers "used excessive force during their arrest of Charles Eimers, killing him."
Police say Eimers' car, P.T. Cruiser, was stopped for an improper lane change, a routine traffic violation, on North Roosevelt Boulevard at 8:25 a.m.
After first cooperating with officers, Eimers began acting strangely, officers said. Then "for reasons unknown," Eimers drove away against police instructions, the 10-page jury report says.
Driving through residential and business areas, "Mr. Eimers was observed speeding, running red lights and disregarding stop signs, thereby posing a substantial risk of injury to persons and property...in the narrow, congested streets of Old Town," the jury concluded.
When Eimers stopped at South Beach at the Atlantic end of Duval, he got out of his car and obeyed officer instructions to lie on the sand. While being handcuffed, he began struggling, officers told the grand jury.
The Eimers family suit contends officers forced "his face into the sand, causing him to inhale sand."
After the arrest, Eimers suffered medical distress and was taken to the hospital.
Witness testimony from bystanders largely supports police accounts that officers did not strike Eimers' head or force his face into the sand, the grand jury concluded.
"We also had the benefit of viewing a video from an unknown tourist which captured a portion of the incident," the report says. "The officers' testimony was consistent with what we observed on the video."
Former Monroe County Medical Examiner E. Hunt Scheuerman told the grand jury that Eimers died of severe heart problems that had been previously diagnosed.
"Most importantly, Dr. Scheuerman testified that Mr. Eimers' pre-existing heart condition was so poor that that he could have died at any time, even in his sleep," the report says.
Grand jury members appeared to give significant weight to the testimony of a former FBI agent and instructor who has no connection to the Key West Police. The expert witness, Charles Joyner, said Eimers' behavior and flight gave police reason to suspect Eimers "posed an immediate threat," and that police "did not use excessive force under the circumstances."
The grand jury did cite "serious concern" about aspects of the death investigation and failure to monitor Eimers' condition before he died days later.
At least one officer reportedly made "derogatory" and inaccurate remarks at the scene of the arrest, the jury said, so the police department's Internal Affairs office should investigate and rectify that "unprofessional conduct."