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‘Too Early?’: White Savannah Cops Reportedly Shared a Meme Mocking Black Man’s Suicide Days After He Was Left Unattended In Interview Room

Four days after a man hung himself in a Savannah police interrogation room, cops allegedly circulated a meme of a Black man hanging himself in a mass text asking if it was “too early” for a Black officer to receive it.

The man’s family is now seeking $12 million from the city and its police officers, according to a wrongful death lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star.

William Zachary Harvey, 60, was arrested in April 2021 after he unintentionally cut another man’s hand with a knife, the lawsuit details. Harvey and another man got into an altercation, and a third man told police he fell into a knife Harvey was holding while trying to break up the fight.

William Zachery Harvey Died in Savannah Police Interview Room
William Zachery Harvey’s family members and their attorneys filed a lawsuit against Savannah and three of its former officers following his death. (Photos: YouTube/Robert Gouveia Esq., Zoom screenshot)

Savannah police detective Silver Leuschner said Harvey was emotional and mumbling as he explained what happened in an interview room at the agency’s headquarters on April 2, 2021. It was captured on Leuschner’s body-worn camera.

He told the detective that he was paranoid schizophrenic, “really depressed” and had anxiety. Harvey said he was on medication for depression and was crying during the interview. He was distraught over the arrest, worried that his mother and probation officer would be disappointed, according to the lawsuit’s description of the footage.

Harvey, who has said he’s “not a violent person,” told Leuschner he’d “rather die than go to jail,” and police would have to kill him before he would go back. He told the detective that he stabbed the man, who was intoxicated, in self-defense, the lawsuit says.

Another officer, Matthew White, reported that Harvey was emotional and upset during the interview, during which he reportedly cried.

“I can’t go back to jail,” Harvey said.

Leuschner reportedly also observed the handcuffed man bang his head on a table in the interview room. The detective believed that Harvey’s self-defense argument could be valid. That’s when attorneys for Harvey’s family said Leuschner left the room to speak to his supervisor, leaving the suicidal man to die.

According to the lawsuit, Harvey was left in the interview room unmonitored for 20 minutes in the early morning of April 3 when he tied his shoestring around his neck. An autopsy report ruled the man’s death a suicide. He also had cocaine and Zoloft, an anti-depressant drug, in his system, it shows.

His family’s attorneys argue police failed to protect or safeguard Harvey. Despite being aware of his suicidal ideation and mental state, officers left him unattended in the room without cameras and with the door closed, going against the department’s own policies, the attorneys said.

“The city of Savannah showed deliberate indifference to Mr. Harvey’s medical and mental health,” said attorney Harold Spence.

What’s more “disturbing,” according to Spence, was that on April 7, 2021, white Savannah Police Department officers circulated a GIF of a Black man with a rope around his neck, who performed a gymnastic move while flipping, then hanging himself.

“Is this too early to send this to Greene?” wrote officer David Curtis in a group chat.

Officer Rodheem Greene, who is Black, was also involved in Harvey’s arrest. He had handcuffed Harvey at the scene and escorted him to the interview room, and he was one of two officers who found Harvey dead.

Curtis told internal affairs that he was “just laughing at a dark [no pun intended] situation,” the lawsuit says. Another officer who was in the chat told internal affairs investigators that Curtis sent the message to the wrong chat group and had instead intended to send it to a group of white officers only.

Curtis and two of his supervisors, one who replied that it was “too soon,” were terminated as a result of the exchange.

“Part of the reasons why you get this indifference to what happened to Mr. Harvey, why you get this flagrant violation of rules, is that you have a certain racial animus that exists among certain officers in the Savannah Police Department,” Spence said. “And that racial animus we believe was on full display April 2, 2021, in the manner in which Mr. Harvey was ignored, deliberately disregarded and mistreated.”

The police department also fired Leuschner, his supervisor and White, who also observed Harvey’s state before leaving him in the room unsupervised.

Then-Police chief Roy W. Minter said in a June 15, 2022, press conference that in his 35 years in law enforcement, he had never seen a person left unmonitored while in custody. He said the department already had implemented changes to insure policies will be followed in the future “from the chief all the way down to the corporal, sergeant positions.”

However, he said he did not “think any of these officers had any malicious intent in what they did.”

“But they made some poor decisions. They didn’t follow department policy and
procedure. Of course, poor decisions have consequences and in this particular
situation, it had severe consequences,” he said.

Harvey’s mother and two surviving adult sons are suing to recover damages for pain and suffering and for funeral and burial expenses. The lawsuit against the city, Minter, Leuschner, his supervisor and White claims they violated Harvey’s civil rights and his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The attorneys argue that if the simplest of preventative actions and mental health-care precautions were taken, then the man’s death could have been avoided.

Harvey’s mother, Shirley Francis, said “it tore her apart” to hear how her son was neglected.

“When my child died, they may as well have put me in a hole, too,” she added.

Even though the family is seeking $12 million, she said no amount of money could replace her son.

“I would take my child any day to have any amount of money,” she said. “I would have my son. That’s all I want, but nobody can give him back to me but God.”

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