Councilman says unpaid suspension hints guilt

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Joseph Thurston said he agrees with the mayor's decision, but said he believes police should be paid until details emerge.

CAIRO, Ill. -- City Councilman Joseph Thurston said Tuesday that he stands by Mayor Paul Farris' decision to suspend five police officers who were working the morning jail inmate Demetrius Flowers was found dead.

Flowers was arrested by the Cairo Police Department at 4:04 a.m. Dec. 14 for battery and obstructing a police officer. He was pronounced dead in his jail cell at 9:34 a.m. that morning by Alexander County Coroner David Barkett. Ferris suspended three police officers and two dispatchers on Monday pending a city investigation into their actions on the morning Flowers died of hanging while in a holding cell.

Thurston said he has learned about the investigation from media reports and word of mouth. He said it is at least customary for the mayor to brief the six council members on his actions. Farris did not call a council meeting to discuss suspending the officers, Thurston said.

But he said his lack of first-hand information about the circumstances surrounding the suspension is "probably my fault because I haven't called anybody to meddle into it."

Thurston disagrees with Farris' decision to withhold the officers' pay. "To me, suspended without pay means that you are guilty of something before the investigation is even over," Thurston said.

Flowers was found hanging by his shoe strings. Preliminary autopsy reports concluded that he died of strangulation. Toxicology and other reports have not come back, according to the coroner's office.

Farris wrote in an administrative order that he found "absolutely no credible evidence" that the hanging "was the product of conspiracy, of any intentional or deliberate act of police misconduct."

Farris suspended the officers without pay until Jan. 31.

Flowers' aunt, Mareva Parnell, called the suspension "a step in the right direction." Flowers' family, she said, has suspected foul play ever since authorities didn't contact family members until three hours after the death and didn't let them identify the body. They also suspect that booking procedures were not followed, Parnell said.

Farris wrote that he is confident that the city and police department will be "fully exonerated." In the same sentence, he wrote that "one or more of the established rules and regulations" of the department's policy manual were "substantially breached."

Farris told the Southern Illinoisan that shoelaces are on the list of items that custodial officers are required to remove before placing a detainee in a holding cell. The Southern Illinoisan also reported that that it is policy for on-duty dispatchers, who also act as jailers, to check a detainee every 30 minutes and to keep a log of such visits. City attorney Michael O'Shea told the Southern Illinoisan it is possible that the log in this case did not reflect actual visits to Flowers' jail cell but rather to video surveillance checks.

Farris told the newspaper security cameras in the jail do not show every section of the cell. He said he has not seen the surveillance video yet to know whether or not Flowers' alleged suicide is shown on the video. The original is in custody of a law enforcement agency, Farris told the Southern Illinoisan.

Phone messages left for Farris Monday and Tuesday were not returned and he was unavailable on a Tuesday visit from a Southeast Missourian reporter. Police chief John Bosecker refused an interview at his office on Tuesday.

Parnell, Flowers' aunt, said the family is just trying to make it through the funeral.

The funeral will be at noon Friday at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Cairo, with the visitation from 10 a.m. until noon.

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