Lawyer, family allege that man who died in York County prison was murdered

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Editor's note: This article originally was published July 23, 2018.

The lawyer and family of a man who died after being held for less than 24 hours in York County Prison claimed on the courthouse steps Monday, July 23, that he was murdered.

Most county officials had no immediate reaction to the allegations from the lawyer, friends and family of Everett Palmer, 41, of Seaford, Delaware, although county Coroner Pam Gay said the cause and manner of his death have not been determined.

Palmer died April 9 while in custody at the prison after he became agitated and began hitting his head against his cell door, according to an April 12 report from the York County Coroner's Office.

An autopsy performed April 10 at Allentown's Lehigh Valley Hospital failed to determine the cause and manner of his death, which are listed as pending, according to Gay.

Palmer was imprisoned after turning himself in for an arrest warrant issued for DUI charges in the county.

Family members of Everett Palmer Jr., from left, Palmer's brother Lamar, mother Rose and brother Dwayne, speak during a news conference at the York County Judicial Center on Monday, July 23, 2018. Family members and legal counsel are seeking information regarding the death of the Palmer while he was in custody at York County Prison in April. Bill Kalina photo

More:Inmate held in York County Prison for 2 days before death

More:Coroner identifies York County Prison inmate who died after self-inflicted injuries

Investigation: Marlon Kirton, a New York attorney, and Palmer's family have their own theory as to what led to the death of the Army veteran, personal trainer and father of two.

"Unfortunately, in this country, many unarmed African-American men and women end up killed at the hands of law enforcement," Kirton said. "We think that's exactly what happened here."

The death is being investigated by the state police, Kirton said. However, they have yet to determine what happened.

The state police declined to comment, citing a pending investigation.

The county district attorney's office also declined to comment and directed inquiries to County Commissioner Doug Hoke, president of the prison board.

County spokesman Mark Walters declined to comment on behalf of all three county commissioners and the prison.

As for the autopsy, the family was told results would be released within 90 days, Kirton said. However, 104 days later, they still have no answers.

Gay said the 90-day estimate was based on average cases. However, because of additional, necessary testing, it is taking longer.

"This is a multi-layered investigation, and it's pending," Gay said. "We have a lot more testing to do, and the forensic pathologist expects for it all to be done soon."

Background: Everett Palmer Jr. had been locked in the prison on DUI charges, according to court records.

Charging documents state he was driving a 2008 Honda Accord when he crashed in the 6500 block of Steltz Road 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 Palmer failed to respond to a court summons from the office of District Judge Thomas Reilly, the judge issued an arrest warrant for Palmer on Jan. 23, 2017, court records state.

He was arrested Saturday, April 7, after turning himself in. He was later taken to the county's central booking unit, where he was arraigned that night on his charges and had bail set at $5,000, records state.

He was then committed to York County Prison.

Palmer was in his single cell at the Springettsbury Township facility when he started hitting his head against his cell door after becoming agitated about 4:20 a.m. Monday, April 9, according to the coroner's office.

He was taken to the prison's medical clinic, where he became unresponsive about 4:45 a.m., according to the coroner's office.

Palmer was then taken to York Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:46 a.m. Monday, the coroner's office said.

Family's expert: Kirton said a pathologist was hired by the family after they received the body.

The examiner, Zhongxue Hua, a New York City pathologist, told Kirton and the family that there was no evidence of suicide.

Hua said there were no injuries that were consistent with suicide, Kirton said. The pathologist also discovered that Palmer's brain, heart, throat and spine were removed from the body before the examiner received it.

Initially, the York County Coroner's Office said a New York funeral home might have harvested the organs, Kirton said. However, the office allegedly later confirmed that they had the organs.

Kirton said the doctor can't conclude his investigation without the organs, and therefore hasn't released any sort of official opinion.

Hua couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

However, Gay said that Forensic Pathology Associates, which worked with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, is holding the organs and conducting tests.

She also denied that the coroner's office told the family the organs were removed in New York.

FPA often works with other pathologists that a family may hire, she said. However, the organs can't be released unless the decision is made by the pathologist following the investigation.

Family's theory: Regardless, the family and lawyer already have formed their own conclusions.

"In our opinion, (the prison guards) killed him," Kirton said. "If it's not suicide and it's not an accident, we believe that it was caused by them." 

Palmer's mother, Rose Palmer, and his brother Dwayne Palmer took to the steps of the York County Judicial Center on Monday to reiterate Kirton's demands.

The Rev. Joan Maruskin, left, the leader of 10,000 Acts of Kindness, speaks with family members of Everett Palmer Jr. after a news conference at the York County Judicial Center on Monday, July 23, 2018. They are, from left, Palmer's brother Lamar, mother Rose and brother Dwayne. Family members and legal counsel are seeking information regarding Palmer's death while in custody at York County Prison in April. Bill Kalina photo

His brother recalled the funeral, where the family had to cover Everett Palmer's head because he so badly injured. He also noted that there was severe bruising on other parts of his body.

"We believe that he was assaulted inside the York County Prison system and that they didn't provide him proper medical care," Dwayne Palmer said.

The brother added that the coroner's office first told the family that Everett Palmer died because of his head injuries but later changed the story and told them it was the result of a heart attack.

However, Gay clarified that while discussions of a possible suicide or heart attack might have been floated as possibilities, the office never reported that either were the official cause of death.

She added that there might have been miscommunication with the family, and if something had indicated murder, the details would've been "clearly identified" in the initial April 12 autopsy report.

"It's very emotional, and we try to explain these things," Gay said. "We understand they want answers, and within a few weeks we should at least have some."

Gay declined to comment on any allegations of murder, citing the pending investigation.

Palmer's mother, unable to hold back tears, pondered aloud what could've happened.

"When I asked (the coroner) why he's dead, she had no answer for me," Rose Palmer said. "We believe that they're covering up; why else would they do that? I want to know why my son is no longer with us."

The mother gave a detailed theory as to what happened that day.

"I believe they beat him in the cell, destroyed his heart by tazing him and beat him so bad they damaged the brain," she said. "Then (the prison guards) choked him to death." 

The mother said she stands by that belief until it can be proven otherwise.

"He was a good man, a good father, a loving son, brother and friend, and he served his country," she said. "There's no reason that he had to die that way."

Tamika Williams, a cousin of Everett Palmer Jr., shows support during a news  conference at the York County Judicial Center on Monday, July 23, 2018. Family members and legal counsel are seeking information regarding Palmer's death while in custody at York County Prison in April. Bill Kalina photo