Coroner, DA receive threats after 'false' reports about Everett Palmer's death investigation
York County sheriff's deputies have been assigned to keep watch over the York County Coroner's Office after it and the district attorney's office received threatening messages in the wake of national news reports.
The recent national reporting on the April 2018 death of a York County Prison inmate — Everett Palmer Jr. — contained inaccuracies, York County Coroner Pam Gay told The York Dispatch on Monday, June 10.
"They're just false allegations," she said. "I was thinking, 'Where is this coming from?' ... I was horrified by the way this was handled by the national broadcast media."
She described the threats as "really ugly," including emails saying "I hope you all die" and "rot in hell" and "you're going to be sorry."
It was an article last week from New York-based broadcast station NY1 that reported Palmer's family didn't know where his internal organs were. Gay said the reporting was erroneous — that the family has known for more than a year.
It's standard protocol in death investigations for forensic pathologists to remove and retain organs such as the heart, brain and even the throat, according to Gay, who said Forensic Pathology Associates in Allentown did just that. Guidelines from the National Association of Medical Examiners direct that organs be retained during death investigations, Gay said.
Organs not missing: Gay said the question about "missing organs" first arose when Palmer's body was examined by a private forensic pathologist retained by Palmer's family. Gay said that within a month, she notified the family that the organs were being properly retained.
"I explained this to the family over and over again," she said, both to family members and to their former attorney.
And in August 2018, she gave Palmer's family his full autopsy report, she said. Gay said that while she cannot legally release the report without the Palmer family's consent, the family can certainly release it.
NY1's headline about the Everett case, as of Monday morning, June 10, read, "No throat, no heart, no brain: No answers for Queens Family After Vet Dies in PA Jail."
Also as of Monday, the headline run by online publication The Root read, "Army Veteran Everett Palmer Died in Police Custody in 2018. His Family Can't Find His Heart."
CNN picked up the NY1 article but revised and corrected it after a reporter there spoke with Gay in person, according to Gay.
Intimidation technique? "If that had really happened, the (Palmer) family would've talked about it a year ago," Gay said. "This new attorney, I feel, is trying to intimidate us into fast-tracking this."
York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said on Monday that people who contacted his office after reading the national reporting "clearly had an intent to do everything they could to threaten and intimidate."
But Sunday and Gay said they won't be intimidated or rushed.
"This office has been inundated with phone calls and emails over the last 48 hours," Sunday said. "The overwhelming majority of the emails and calls were from other states. It's critical to understand that no amount of outside influence will have any impact on the work of my office. We follow the facts and apply the law. Period."
York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber confirmed the district attorney alerted him over the weekend to the emails and calls.
The sheriff said Springettsbury Township Police also have been notified because that's where the coroner's office is located.
"At this point we don't anticipate anything (happening)," Keuerleber told The York Dispatch. "But it's always better to be prepared."
The background: An autopsy and forensic testing determined Palmer's cause of death to be "complications following an excited state, associated with methamphetamine toxicity, during physical restraint," according to a July 28, 2018, news release from Gay.
A probable sickling red-cell disorder was listed as a contributing factor to the death.
Gay has listed the manner of Palmer's death as undetermined, but she noted that can be changed if and when more information comes to light. Manner of death can be natural, homicide, suicide, accidental or undetermined.
Palmer, 41, of Seaford, Delaware, was in his York County Prison cell about 4:20 a.m. April 9, 2018, when he started hitting his head against his cell door after becoming agitated, Gay has said.
Prison staff took him to the prison's medical clinic, according to Gay, who said "sometimes they have to use physical restraint to render assistance to people ... especially if they are self-harming."
Palmer was then taken to York Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:46 a.m., according to the coroner's office.
DUI charge: At the time of his death, Palmer was locked up on DUI charges.
Charging documents state he crashed a Honda Accord in the 6500 block of Steltz Road in Codorus Township just after 2 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2016.
Palmer was charged with DUI, careless driving and failing to stay in his own lane.
After he failed to respond to a court summons from the office of District Judge Tom Reilly, the judge issued an arrest warrant for Palmer on Jan. 23, 2017, court records state.
Palmer turned himself in on April 7 and was taken to prison on $5,000 bail. Two days later, he was dead.
How a high level of meth wound up in Palmer's system remains a mystery. It also remains unclear how prison staff restrained Palmer.
Gay said the "fake news" reporting forced her to issue a statement via Twitter on Friday, June 7, stating that Palmer's organs were never missing, and that her office had been working closely with the family and their former attorney.
"We had a fairly good working relationship with their prior attorney," she said. That was Marlon Kirton, who said that while he still works with the family, new attorney Lee Merritt is handling the family's issues regarding Palmer's death. Kirton on Monday referred comment to Merritt.
"When you're trying to incite people to make threats and intimidate? There's something wrong there," the coroner said. "That's not how you get justice for Everett."
Merritt did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Monday.
'No one's hiding anything': "I have been careful not to speak ill of this family. I feel terrible for what they're going through," Gay said. "I don't blame them for any of this, and I have no ill will toward them.
"I just want the truth to be told — that I am doing the best for their son. And no one's hiding anything," Gay said.
Gay was testifying in court Friday morning on an unrelated matter. She said because of that, she was unable to immediately return phone messages from out-of-town reporters.
"They ran the story without verifying anything from me," she said, adding that news agencies such as CNN and The Washington Post revised their articles after speaking with her.
"They continue to perpetuate falsehoods about this case, and we take all the hits," she said. "Some people think we're running a black market organ-harvesting ring. Some people think we're racist."
Gay said the investigation is still active, but she can't discuss details.
"Eventually the truth will come out," she said. "We're going to take our time to do it right, as we do with every death investigation. ... All I can say is, it's being investigated thoroughly. It's never been put on the back burner. We want justice for Everett too."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.