HARRISBURG – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced today that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against York County Prison personnel related to the death of Everett Palmer Jr.
According to U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus, yesterday, officials from the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania notified representatives of the Palmer family to inform them of this decision. Palmer died following an emergency cell extraction after exhibiting self-injurious behavior. The medical examiner determined that his death was caused by complications following an excited state (excited delirium), associated with methamphetamine toxicity, during physical restraint.
Federal authorities examined all of the material and evidence in the State case generated by the Pennsylvania State Police and the Office of the District Attorney of York County (DAO), including statements made by corrections officers, witness statements, video recordings, medical reports, and prison policies and procedures.
The federal review sought to determine whether corrections officers violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Palmer or by acting with deliberate indifference to his known medical needs. Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer(s) acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
After a careful and thorough review into the facts surrounding the incident, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of the federal statute. The evidence, when viewed as whole, is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of force by corrections officers was “objectively unreasonable” or that corrections officers acted with deliberate indifference to Palmer’s known medical needs. The evidence is also insufficient to establish that any corrections officer acted with the specific intent to break the law.
Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed. This decision is limited strictly to the department’s inability to meet the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of this incident.
The Justice Department is committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated. The department aggressively prosecutes criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.