York County Prison: Trump reportedly promises probe of Everett Palmer's death

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
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

President Donald Trump on Tuesday committed to a federal investigation into the death of Everett Palmer, a man who died in custody two years ago after surrendering to face DUI charges in York County, an attorney for the man's family tweeted.

Attorney Lee Merritt's comments came shortly before Trump said he spoke with Palmer's family and the families of several other black men who have died in recent years while in police custody.

Trump mentioned Palmer while announcing an executive order on police reform, calling him and the others who have died "incredible people."

"This commitment is not currency," Merritt tweeted. "This commitment does not help save lives in the future but potentially will help these families get justice."

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Palmer, 41, of Seaford, Delaware, died in York Hospital on April 9, 2018, after being found repeatedly hitting his head against a wall in his prison cell, authorities have said.

He had been in York County Prison for two days.

Dr. Zhongxue Hua of New York City, a forensic pathologist hired by Palmer's family, agreed with York County Coroner Pam Gay's determination of the cause of death.

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 autopsy report from Allentown-based Forensic Pathology Associates.

However, Hua has argued that the manner of death should be classified as a homicide. Gay has maintained the manner of death is undetermined, but she has said that could change.

In a federal lawsuit filed April 1, Palmer's family alleged Palmer was murdered by prison guards and that several high-ranking county officials conspired to cover it up. 

State police and the York County District Attorney's Office are still investigating the matter. County spokesperson Mark Walters declined to comment Tuesday.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler also declined to comment.

Trump said Tuesday that along with the executive order, Republicans are working to draft legislation to further address police reform.

"Today is about pursuing common sense and fighting for a cause like we seldom get the chance to fight for," Trump said.

The executive order itself forces police departments to abide by new guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Justice, which includes a ban on chokeholds unless the officer is targeted by deadly force, Axios reported.

It also calls for a national registry to track police officers with multiple instances of excessive force.

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

The order falls short of the more sweeping reforms that have been demanded by protesters in response to the death of George Floyd, a man who last month died after a Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

For example, Trump condemned the "radical and dangerous efforts to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police departments," saying the country now has the lowest crime rate in recent history

Supporters of the "Defund the Police" movement have often pointed out, though, that police departments wouldn't just disappear.

Instead, many have clarified that they're actually calling for governments to reallocate portions of police budgets to social programs and other areas.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.