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Removed organs further "mystery" surrounding Army vet's death in prison, attorney says

An Army veteran traveled to Pennsylvania last year to resolve an outstanding DUI warrant and died in police custody two days later. Afterwards his vital organs were removed during an autopsy, which concluded he'd been physically restrained and died from methamphetamine toxicity. Now, 14 months after his death, the family of Everett Palmer Jr. still doesn't know why or how he died, and claim Palmer was killed while in police custody. 

"The most frustrating part is my son being murdered and not having any answers to how he was murdered," Rose Palmer, Everett's mother, said during a press conference Tuesday in New York. "Since April 9, I have not had a good night sleep since I think about my child and the possible scenarios. It is torture. He didn't deserve this. He went there to check on his license and he never made it out."  

Palmer Jr. was born and raised in Queens, but lived in Sussex County in Seaford, Delaware. The 41-year-old father of two went to Pennsylvania on April 7, 2018 to resolve an outstanding DUI warrant from two years prior. He was booked and put in a single cell at York County Prison. On April 9, 2018, he was pronounced dead at 5:45 a.m., according to the York County Coroner's Office press release. 

A photo of Everett Palmer Jr.  Justice4Everett Facebook page

"The three things we've always asked is that a true and full and total accounting of what happened with my brother between April 7 and April 9," Dwayne Palmer, Everett's brother, told NY1. "To this day, we have not received any type of information in terms of what happened in that 48-hour period that caused the death of my brother."

"The information we are receiving in piecemeal-style tells us Everett Palmer was tased, Everett Palmer was restrained, and it tells us there were outside factors… other persons involved in causing his death," attorney Lee Merritt told CBS New York. CBS News reached out to Mr. Merritt's office multiple times for comment but has not yet received word back. 

According to autopsy results, released by the York County Coroner's office in July 2018, Palmer's manner of death is still undetermined. His family told CBS New York they've consistently asked the local authorities for updates for over a year without much progress.

Palmer's family said his brain, heart, and throat were removed during an autopsy and never returned as part of the investigation. The coroner said that is normal procedure. During the Tuesday's press conference, Merritt said Palmer's "missing organs are the center of the narrative." 

"There was no pre- or post-notification. They were removing organs from my brother's body," Dwayne Palmer told CBS New York.

Mark E. Walters, the York County Public Information Officer, disputes this accusation by Palmer's family and their attorney. 

"They were removed but they're not missing," Walters told CBS News, speaking of the organs. "This is part of the process. We know exactly where they are. This is part of the death investigation. It's standard procedure."  

York County Coroner Pamela L. Gay told CBS News, "Organs are not returned sometimes with the body. It goes on every day in the country as evidence collection because the individual, the body, cannot speak for themselves anymore. While it's graphic and someways very creepy, it is very much an ordinary process in trying to bring justice for our deceased individuals."  

Gay told CBS News, "In a death in custody, it's not unusual to have the throat retained, especially when there's been physical restraint." 

Everett Palmer Jr. was a U.S. Army veteran Justice4Everett Facebook page

"When someone dies in police custody, the state has a responsibility to provide as much clarity and transparency as humanly possible to the family," Merritt told CBS New York.

Gay told CBS News Forensic Pathology Associates (FPA) of Allentown, PA conducted the autopsy. In a June 2019 statement, Gay's office said FPA is "currently in possession of the heart, brain and throat" and that they conduced the autopsy "in accordance with the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) guidelines." 

In a statement to CBS News, the National Association of Medical Examiners  said laws regarding organ removal vary from state to state. "NAME-accredited  offices must have a policy about retention of any organs that considers law in the particular jurisdiction," the group said.

Forensic Pathology Associates did not respond to CBS News' request for comment and referred all inquiries to Health Network Labs. CBS News reached out to Health Network Labs, but have yet to receive word back. 

A press release by Gay's office said the coroner's office, FPA, and Mr. Palmer's immediate family and legal counsel "have been in regular discussions since shortly after Everett Palmer Jr.'s death." 

But the initial July 2018 coroner's report creates a confusing narrative, one that has fueled Palmer's family's suspicions. It states after being taken into custody, Palmer "became agitated," and that officers had to restrain Palmer from hitting his head against his cell door. It then cited his cause of death as complications from "an excited state" with "methamphetamine toxicity" during "physical restraint." It also adds "probable sickling red cell disorder" as a contributory factor in his death. The manner of his death is left undetermined. 

"My son was a perfectly healthy young man, and my son is not going to bang his head on a cell," Palmer's mother said in an interview with The Washington Post. "My son was not a troublemaker, not at all, he was a very gentle, kind man."

Dwayne Palmer told The Washington Post that Everett was a personal trainer in excellent health, and that while the family were carriers for sickle-cell anemia, his brother did not have it. Gay told CBS News that she'd been told Palmer was in excellent health, and said regarding the mention of the cell disorder as contributory factor, that "the doctor must've felt strongly enough if he wanted to mention it." 

"They just threw drugs into that report that we consider disrespectful without any context," Merritt said during the Tuesday press conference. "That should set off red flags. If he was found with drugs, then there should be a full investigation on how he got those drugs."

Gay, the York County Coroner, stands by the conclusions made in the autopsy report. First, she said the multi-page autopsy report written by Forensic Pathology Associates was given to the Palmer family last August. "They've had it the entire time," she said. Gay told CBS News that the family was provided the report and that she called them personally to tell them of the results of the FPA's autopsy report.

Gay also confirmed the methamphetamine in Everett Palmer Jr.'s system is "well demonstrated in the multi-page (autopsy) report."

"It does show he had methamphetamine toxicity and it was above therapeutic levels and the physician thought it was toxicity or he wouldn't have written it," she told CBS News.  

As for the conclusion that Palmer was physically retrained and hit his head on his cell, Gay added, "We actually saw video that he had been hitting his head and we saw where they tried to bring him under control." 

Palmer's family wants to know who is responsible and who will be held accountable. York County Public Information Officer Mark E. Walters confirmed to CBS News that Pennsylvania State Police and the York County District Attorney's Office are both investigating Palmer's death. 

Kyle King of the District Attorney's office declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation. 

On a June 9 post on the Justice4Everett Facebook page, Merritt wrote: "Everything that happened during the course of those two days has been hidden. There are no reports. No video has been produced. No one has offered a valid explanation for what caused his death. The fact that is body was returned to his family without his heart, brain and throat is less about a claim of 'organ harvesting' and more about the furtherance of the unnecessary mystery surrounding his death. We want answers and we will keep pushing until we get them." 

Gay clarified told CBS News that there was no consent needed to remover Palmer's organs. 

"The body is the coroner's jurisdiction," she said. "Because the body is part of the evidence and the investigation, the coroner or medical examiner has jurisdiction over that body. They are the ones who can order the autopsy without family consent."  

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