Five Police Officers in Savannah, Georgia, Fired After Man Kills Himself While in Custody

William Harvey was found hanging in a police interrogation room where he was being questioned in connection to an aggravated assault. (Family Handout)

Five police officers in Savannah, Ga., have been fired after a Black man hanged himself while in custody in April, a death that three of them mocked in a text message exchange that contained a crude GIF, officials said this week.

The officers’ dismissal was announced by the Savannah Police Department on Monday. That same day the city’s police chief and mayor met with the family of William Harvey, who officers said hanged himself with his shoelaces on April 3 after officers questioned him at police headquarters as part of an investigation into an aggravated assault.

Mr. Harvey, 60, was found unresponsive in an interview room where he had been left alone. His death was ruled a suicide by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

But his family has faulted the police over the actions of officers leading up to and after his death. They said the police had neglected the warning signs that Mr. Harvey had been in distress, failed to activate all of the cameras that were in the room and later made light of the tragedy in a group text message exchange.

Roy W. Minter Jr., the Savannah police chief, said at a media briefing on Tuesday that Mr. Harvey’s death could have been prevented if not for missteps of officers.

“I don’t think any of these officers had any malicious intent in what they did, but they made some poor decisions and didn’t follow department policy and procedure,” Chief Minter said.

The punishment of the officers, who have not been charged with any crimes, came as police departments across the nation are facing intense scrutiny over misconduct and complaints of institutional racism after the death of George Floyd while in custody in Minneapolis.

“When you’re in the care custody of the police, you should be able to enter an interrogation room and emerge alive,” Francys Johnson, a lawyer for the Harvey family, said at a news conference on Monday.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Neil Vigdor