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Attorney: GBI says no video of SPD in-custody death

60-year-old William Zachery Harvey died more than a month ago while he was in custody of the Savannah Police Department.
William Zachery Harvey
William Zachery Harvey(Davis Bozeman Johnson Law)
Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 8:09 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - William Zachery Harvey, 60, died more than a month ago while he was in custody of the Savannah Police Department.

Friday, his family and their attorneys say they’ve learned more about the circumstances surrounding his death, but that after talking with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, and other officials, in some ways they feel they still have more questions than answers.

Flanked by Harvey’s mother, younger sister and Rev. Leonard Small, attorneys with Davis Bozeman Johnson Law that are representing the family gave an update to what they’ve been told by the GBI.

“In that interrogation room, the camera inside of the room was not activated, and that, everyone knows, is a procedural error,” said attorney Mawuli Davis. “Unfortunately what happened in that room in the moments before officers came in to allegedly find Mr. Harvey in the condition that he was in, we will unfortunately never know.”

The attorneys said that the camera not being turned on was due to human error, not faulty equipment.

They also say the GBI confirmed that Harvey had one arm handcuffed to a rail inside the room, and his family isn’t convinced that he died by suicide like police have said.

In a release they put out Friday, the law firm said, “The family wants Savannah and the rest of the world to know that Mr. Harvey was not suicidal and they do not believe he would ever have harmed himself.”

Agents say preliminary autopsy results show Harvey died because of injuries to his neck caused by his shoelaces.

“If we believe the narrative that is put out that he was able to unlace his shoelaces, and configure it in such a way that he could strangle himself, hang himself, and do that all while two members of the police department stood outside and watched, what a terrible tragedy,” said attorney Francys Johnson.

Harvey’s mother, Shirley Francis, had one word to describe her feelings. “Angry.”

“Mrs. Francis wants to be anywhere but here in our office today,” Johnson said. “She’s here in her grief, because grief is the last act of love that a person has, and it’s in her grief that she’s sitting here on Mouther’s Day Weekend talking about what the police did not do.”

They said much of the anger and frustration stems from a lack of communication, but called Friday’s meeting with Savannah city leaders a step in the right direction.

Both the law firm and Savannah Police confirmed that the criminal and internal investigations are still ongoing.

The Savannah Police Department released the following statement:

“The Georgia Bureau of Investigations is continuing to conduct its independent investigation into the in-custody death of William Harvey. After expressing our desire to meet with the Harvey family, the GBI allowed us to establish a line of communication with them. Today, Chief Roy Minter and Assistant Chief Lenny Gunther met with the Harvey family to express their condolences and review some of the circumstances surrounding the case, which were previously relayed to the family by the GBI. We also assisted the family in retrieving Harvey’s personal property.

The family was advised that we are continuing the process of completing our internal investigation and continuing to cooperate with the GBI. A thorough internal investigation is our top priority to ensure we address any potential policy, procedure or accountability concerns.”

Below is the full statement from the law firm:

“The family is devastated by Mr. Harvey’s death. After practicing law for nearly 20 years, we have never had a situation where a person allegedly harmed themselves in a police interrogation room. We are investigating the case and identifying the standard operating procedures which should safeguard the lives of individuals in police custody,” said Attorney Mawuli Davis, Davis Bozeman Johnson Law Firm.

“In a climate where Black men and women are dying in deadly interactions with police, there must be a proper investigation that is thorough, transparent, and most importantly truthful. The family wants Savannah and the rest of the world to know that Mr. Harvey was not suicidal and they do not believe he would ever have harmed himself. We will do our part to ensure that Mr. Harvey’s death is fully and thoroughly investigated.” Attorney Francys Johnson, Davis Bozeman Johnson Law Firm.”

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