The Savannah Police Department announced on Monday that five officers linked to the death of a Black man who apparently committed suicide while in custody in April have been fired from the Georgia port city’s department
The terminations come at the conclusion of two separate investigations into the in-custody death of 60-year-old William Harvey, whose death was ruled a suicide by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The initial investigation surrounded Harvey’s death, while the second one stemmed from a group chat between officers in which one officer sent an inappropriate meme mocking the man’s death.
“Today, as the city of Savannah tries to right this wrong, we acknowledge that they’ve done an important thing by first acknowledging their mistakes and doing something about it,” said the family’s attorney Francys Johnson, WSAV reported. “If they continue to do this, this family will sooner rather than later have the justice that they deserve.”
On April 3, Harvey was at police headquarters being questioned in connection with an aggravated assault investigation. Officers stepped out of the interrogation room and returned to find Harvey unconscious. Life-saving measures were unsuccessful. The GBI determined that Harvey died of suicide by hanging, and used his own shoelaces.
After Harvey’s family demanded footage and answers about the man’s death, it was revealed that the officers neglected to turn on surveillance cameras to monitor Harvey while they were out of the room.
“They failed to take the most basic step in policing,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “That’s beyond the pale. We shouldn’t be left to guess what happened in an interrogation room because it should be recorded.”
All four officers involved were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Two officers involved in Harvey’s death were terminated and one was suspended. Cpl. Silver Leuschner was fired for violating criminal investigation policy, employee responsibility, oath of office ethics and conduct, and video/audio recording equipment, while Sgt. Michael Kerr was fired after violating his supervisory responsibility. Officer Matthew White was suspended after he was sustained on a violation of office ethics and conduct by the board.
In late April, a second investigation was launched after a complaint was filed with the department about an inappropriate message sent in a group chat.
In a group chat called “East Night Shift” one officer sent a GIF of a Black man hanging himself and asked if it was “too early” to send the message to the officer who discovered Harvey.
The mother of the officer who discovered Harvey filed a complaint with the police department.
“We don’t know whether it was a joke, a warning, or a threat, but whatever it was, we want everybody involved to be fired,” said Rev. Leonard Small, who was contacted by the mother to speak on her behalf.
At the conclusion of the investigation into the message, three officers were fired.
Sgt. Christopher Hewett was terminated for violating supervisory responsibility, Cpl. Erica Tremblay was fired for violations of supervisory responsibility, insubordination, and office of professional standards, and Officer David Curtis was fired over conduct unbecoming of an officer, insubordination, and for violations of treatment of others, truthfulness/honesty, and office of professional standards.
Harvey’s family does not believe that he was suicidal and believes the police department has not been forthcoming with providing information throughout the investigation. The family’s attorney said the next step is to determine whether criminal charges or civil litigation are warranted.