A Black Man Died by Suicide in Police Custody. Cops Mocked Him.

Five officers involved have now been fired from the Savannah Police Department.
June 15, 2021, 4:34pm
Savannah (Ga)., Police Chief Roy Minter wears a black band over his badge at a memorial ceremony on Monday, May 13, 2019.
Savannah (Ga)., Police Chief Roy Minter wears a black band over his badge at a memorial ceremony on Monday, May 13, 2019. (Will Peebles/Savannah Morning News via AP)

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A Black man died by suicide in police custody in Savannah, Georgia, after two officers left him alone in an interrogation room and didn’t turn on the surveillance cameras meant to monitor him. Just weeks later, as the department and the state conducted an investigation into the man’s death, three more officers were caught sharing a tasteless meme mocking the tragic incident.

Now, after two months of investigation, the five officers have been fired from the department.

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The Savannah Police Department’s Professional Standards Unit and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Monday that they would be concluding two investigations into the death of 60-year-old William Harvey, a Black man who was found unconscious in a police interrogation room April 3.

That day, Harvey was transported to Savannah Police Headquarters for questioning in relation to an aggravated assault investigation. Two officers, Cpl. Silver Leuschner and Sgt. Michael Kerr, left Harvey alone in the room for an undetermined amount of time. When they returned, police say Harvey had sustained injuries from an object in his possession. The two officers tried to induce life-saving efforts but were unsuccessful.

When Harvey’s family demanded an explanation for his death, their attorney, Francys Johnson, discovered that the officers failed to turn on the interrogation room’s surveillance cameras, according to Savannah’s NBC affiliate WSAV.

Kerr was terminated for violating supervisory responsibility. Leuschner was terminated for violating his employee responsibility, violating his oath of office ethics and conduct, and violating criminal investigation policies.

A few weeks after the first investigation began, the department’s Professional Standards Unit opened a second investigation involving an officer who shared a GIF of a Black man hanging himself to a group chat of other officers.

Harvey’s family demanded the department take immediate action in a statement provided through family friend Rev. Leonard Small.

“We don’t know whether it was a joke, a warning, or a threat, but whatever it was, we want everybody involved to be fired,” Small told WSAV.

Two supervisors, Sgt. Christopher Hewett and Cpl. Erica Tremblay, and Officer David Curtis, were placed on administrative leave at the start of the investigation, according to police. On Monday, the department announced that the officers would all be terminated.

Hewett was terminated for violating his supervisory responsibility. Tremblay was terminated for insubordination, violating her supervisory responsibility, and violating the department’s professional standards.

Officer David Curtis was terminated for conduct unbecoming of an officer, insubordination, treatment of others, and failing to meet the department’s standards for honesty and professionalism.

“Actions taken demonstrate that the mayor and the chief of police were sure to their word when they promised a thorough and transparent investigation,” the attorney for Harvey’s family said after meeting with Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and Police Chief Roy Minter Monday, according to WSAV News. “If they continue to do this, this family will sooner rather than later have the justice that they deserve.”

Johnson did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Hewett, Tremblay, Kerr, and Leuschner all appealed their terminations to Chief Minter and the Savannah City Manager, according to police, but were denied. Savannah Police Department did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.