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Notice of lawsuit filed by estate of York County Prison inmate who died in custody

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The estate of a York County Prison inmate who died in custody in 2018 has filed notice that it intends to sue York County and others for his death.

Everett Palmer, 41, of Seaford, Delaware, died April 9, 2018, in York Hospital, where he was taken after being found repeatedly hitting his head against the door of his prison cell, authorities have said.

He had been locked up for two days.

The investigation into Palmer's death remains ongoing, according to Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney's Office.

Palmer's mother and executrix of his estate, Rose Palmer, filed what's known as a praecipe on Tuesday, Jan. 14, in the York County Prothonotary's Office.

A praecipe is official notice of intent to sue someone in civil court.

The praecipe names York County, its prison board and 10 "John Does" as defendants. Those are most likely prison employees.

Unlike actual civil lawsuits, praecipes do not go into detail about allegations.

A message was left the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 15, with John Coyle, the Philadelphia-based attorney representing Palmer's estate in the matter.

Everett Palmer Jr.

The background: Palmer died of "complications following an excited state, associated with methamphetamine toxicity, during physical restraint," with "probable sickling red cell disorder" as a contributing factor, according to the 22-page autopsy report from Forensic Pathology Associates in Allentown.

Palmer's family members have said they believe he was murdered. They have held protests in front of the York County Judicial Center and elsewhere, seeking answers.

The official autopsy report states that when Palmer was admitted to York County Prison on April 7, 2018, he was "reportedly rambling and stated that he had suicidal thoughts."

Palmer was evaluated by nursing staff when he arrived, then "placed in a single person cell on constant watch as a suicide risk based on the results of his intake psychological evaluation," the report states.

According to the autopsy report, prison records show that medical staff checked on him multiple times over the two days, including when he was seen by staff the day before his death, during which staff found bruises on his elbows and a finger; Palmer reportedly told medical staff he slipped in his cell.

'Rambling, incoherent': When medical staff went to his cell door to do a wellness check at 3:40 a.m. April 9, 2018 — less than two hours before Palmer's death — he "was kneeling behind the cell door and covered the door with his mattress; he was reportedly rambling, incoherent and did not respond to medical staff," the autopsy report states. "He eventually responded to correctional staff and the mattress was removed."

About 25 minutes later, Palmer was seen hitting his head on the Plexiglas portion of his cell door, according to the report, which states that although the window had a Plexiglas cover, there was a metal plate on the wall with a sharp corner to it.

A correctional officer ordered Palmer to lie down and put his arms behind his back, but he did not comply, the report states. Other guards were called for backup, at which point it was noted that Palmer had cuts and a possible puncture wound to the back of his head, the report states.

One guard, holding a tactical shield, opened the cell door, and a second shocked Palmer with a Taser, which had no effect on Palmer, according to the report.

After Palmer was tased a second time, officers entered his cell, "initially pinned him to the bunk using the shield" and got him to the floor, according to the report.

"During this time the decedent continued to struggle (including kicking and attempts at biting); the officers secured the decedent by various physical control techniques including securing his mid-section and lower extremities, securing his hand by applying the mandibular angle pressure point, applying shackles to his lower extremities and applying handcuffs to his wrists," according to the autopsy report.

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

'Spit hood': Correctional officers then put a "spit hood" over his head to prevent him from spitting or biting, according to the report.

"The officers lifted him out of the cell and into the restraint chair and applied the lap belt, leg restraints and hand restraints (in that order). Video footage of the events inside of the decedent's cell did not give a clear picture of the in-cell restraint process until the decedent was fully restrained in the cell," according to the report.

The video footage indicates five guards were in Palmer's prison cell trying to restrain him, the report states. After restraining Palmer, they carried him out of his cell at 4:24 a.m.; he was in the prison's medical unit five minutes later, according to the autopsy report.

More:Pathologist: Prison guards weren't trying to kill Everett Palmer

More:Coroner, DA receive threats after 'false' reports about Everett Palmer's death investigation

More:York County Coroner on prison death: Palmer's organs never 'missing'

"He did not move and was unresponsive to light and smelling salts per video footage," the report states. "The decedent was removed from the restraint chair onto the floor at 0438 hours. ... Cardiac compressions were started by staff members at 0443 hours and continued by EMS upon their arrival."

Palmer was transported to York Hospital about 5:05 a.m., the report states. He was pronounced dead at 5:46 a.m., according to the report.

The report indicates that although Palmer had extensive bruising to his head, those injuries did not contribute to his death.

The injuries: Palmer, who was 6-feet-2 and weighed 222 pounds, suffered abrasions and cuts to multiple areas of his forehead and scalp as well as bruising to his extremities, left hip and left side of his torso, according to the report.

A photo of Everett Palmer Jr. is displayed on a sign during a press conference at the York County Judicial Center 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 last April. Bill Kalina photo

A forensic pathologist in New York City hired by Palmer's family to review official autopsy findings has said he agrees with York County Coroner Pam Gay's ruling on cause of death, but disagrees with her current finding on manner of death, which she has listed as undetermined. Gay said that ruling can be changed, depending on what the investigation determines.

Dr. Zhongxue Hua has told The York Dispatch that he believes the manner of death should be homicide, but he noted that doesn't mean prison guards intended to harm Palmer.

"I would be the first one to say that (they) never tried to kill this person," he said.

Hua also said that just because a case is ruled a homicide doesn't mean someone intentionally tried to kill a decedent. Homicides can be the result of unintentional actions, the physician said.

Gay has previously said that homicide is "death at the hands of another" and doesn't mean a crime was necessarily committed.

Who gave Palmer meth? How a toxic level of methamphetamine got into Palmer's system while he was locked in a prison cell by himself remains a mystery.

The autopsy report summarizes side effects of meth:

"Methamphetamine is associated with confusion, psychosis, hyperactivity and cardiac toxicity (elevated blood pressure and heart rate)."

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday has said he cannot comment about ongoing investigations.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.