The family of a 60-year-old man who killed himself when left alone in a police station interview room filed suit Tuesday against the city of Savannah and its police department.
Attorneys for the family say that officers questioning William Zachery Harvey two years ago in connection with an aggravated assault ignored him when Harvey threatened to take his own life rather than go to jail.
Officers who left Harvey unattended during a break in their interview April 3, 2021, returned to find him dead. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation and concluded that Harvey had hanged himself with his own shoelaces.
“Mr. Harvey should have never been alone in the interview room,” Harold Spence, one of the attorneys for Harvey’s family, told a news conference Tuesday. He said police “ignored their own policies” by not turning on a video camera in the room and having an officer monitor it.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court seeks to recover the cost of Harvey’s funeral and burial expenses, as well as monetary damages for “personal injuries, pain and suffering, and wrongful death.”
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Two months after Harvey’s death, Savannah police fired five officers. Two of them lost their jobs for policy violations related to Harvey’s interview and death. Three others were fired in connection with a text message shared among Savannah officers that mocked Harvey’s death.
Roy Minter, Savannah’s police chief at the time of Harvey’s death, left the department last year when President Joe Biden nominated him to become U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Georgia. Minter’s confirmation is still pending in the U.S. Senate.
Nick Zoller, spokesman for Savannah’s city government said officials and the police department don’t comment on pending litigation.
Attorneys for Harvey’s family said he was taking medication for depression and anxiety at the time of his fatal police interview. They said he not only threatened to kill himself in front of officers, but also began banging his head against a table.
“Mr. Harvey was ignored, deliberately disregarded and mistreated,” Spence said.
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The attorneys said Savannah police not only should have prevented Harvey’s death, but also have failed to make changes that would prevent people in custody from harming themselves in the future.
“To hear how my child died from neglect, it tears me apart,” Harvey’s mother, Shirley Harvey Francis, told reporters Tuesday.
Speaking through tears, she said: “When my child died, they may as well have put me in a hole too.”
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