William Harvey and his family are beginning to see justice after the Savannah Police Department fired five officers and suspended another in connection to his in-custody hanging death in April. The SPD officially closed two investigations on June 14 regarding the death of Mr. Harvey, after two months of internal examination.
According to a statement released by the Savannah Police Department, five Georgia officers in connection with William Harvey’s death were fired. After the initial investigation, three officers were found in violation of SPD policies and procedures in connection to Harvey’s death. Cpl. Silver Leuschner and Sgt. Michael Kerr were terminated, and Officer Matthew White was suspended after the initial investigation.
After the first investigation concluded, a second investigation by the Professional Standards Unit began after a group of chat messages were found that referred to the in-custody death, including memes, jokes, and other inappropriate references to the death. Sgt. Christopher Hewett, Cpl. Erica Tremblay and Officer David Curtis were all terminated following the conclusion of the second investigation.
All five terminations were upheld by the chief and city manager following appeals from the guilty officers. There will likely be a civil case filed against the SPD and the six officers connected to the death of 60-year-old William Harvey, who died while alone in an interview room.
Harvey had been transported to police headquarters in Savannah to be questioned for an aggravated assault. William Harvey was found alone in the interview room, hanging, and officers attempted life-saving measures but were unable to save him. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation ruled Harvey’s death a suicide, but at the time, all officers connected to the incident were placed on administrative leave.
During the initial investigation of William Harvey’s death, officers determined that he suffered from “injuries sustained from an object in his possession,” according to the police department’s statement. Details are unclear about the alleged aggravated assault that was being investigated when Harvey was in custody, though it likely occurred at a gas station in Savannah, Georgia.
In speaking about the terminated officers, Mayor Van Johnson said that while he and the council don’t have input regarding the firing process, Savannah city manager Michael Brown did uphold the firing due to evidence found during the internal affairs investigation.
“I promised the family that we would thoroughly investigate it internally and determine whether rules were broken or not followed and that we would have accountability,” Van Johnson explained in a news conference on Monday. “Although I don’t have any role in the decision-making process I believe from my briefing that their investigation was thorough.”
The family, who will likely continue the fight through a civil lawsuit with attorneys Francys Johnson and Mawuli Mel Davis, have found some solace in the officers’ terminations. Still, Attorney Francys Johnson explained during the news conference that the decision was not made lightly. “This is a tough day,” he admitted. “It’s a tough day for the city of Savannah for those who look to the Savannah Police Department to serve and protect, and it’s a tough day for the Harvey family.”
Davis explained that the civil lawsuit has not been filed, and the case has not been turned over to the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office. He did say that there likely will be a civil case filed. “That’s a very critical next step because it is in that report and investigation that we will know whether anyone will be held criminally liable,” Davis said during the conference.
For the Harveys, it’s not just about justice, it’s about getting answers to the tough questions. “It’s just been hard finding out what happened and how it happened,” Michael Harvey said. “We had so many questions and we’ve got some answers. But we’re not going to stop until we get all our questions answered.”
He continued, saying that “We just want to know the truth. We just want to know why this happened.” According to Francys Johnson, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than the William Harvey death. He explained that since the investigation started, Johnson’s law firm has received “disturbing” complaints about the Savannah Police Department and those officers involved, which Francys Johnson says revealed that “there is a culture of toleration which would disgust any person on goodwill.”